With the finals fast approaching, almost half the coaches that started this A-League season have either been sacked or quit their positions. It’s a testament to how difficult the job has become in this competition.
First to go was Ian Crook at Sydney FC. The likable Englishman said the task simply got the better of him and had become a “burden”.
Next went Rado Vidošić at Brisbane Roar. Considering his predecessor’s unparalleled success, the position was always going to be something of a poisoned chalice.
With Crook now technical director at Football NSW and Vidošić shifted to a similar role at Brisbane, it seems neither was really ever suited to the top job. Perhaps both gentlemen would have been wiser to remain assistants. Not every manager is best utilised as a head coach.
Third, and perhaps most unexpected, was John Kosmina’s walkout at Adelaide. While the full story is yet to be revealed, Kosmina was clearly disturbed by what he called “the whispers in the corridors.” And now, after a terrible run of form and the loss of several players, Ian Ferguson becomes the latest victim of the A-League coaching merry-go-round.
This season has surely been one of the most turbulent in the competition’s history. Have we ever seen four clubs lose their coach in just one season? And with Wellington Phoenix in free-fall, don’t be surprised if Ricki Herbert is the fifth to go.
Of course, coaching is a hard task no matter the league. But as the standard of play increases, coaching an A-League side has become much more difficult in recent years.
The fact that there are many willing coaches vying for just ten positions means it’s a buyers market for clubs. Either perform or you’re out.
And as the competition has become more embedded and clubs have started to build their identities, the pressure to get results has intensified. Indeed, social media and the proliferation of A-League focused websites has made the job more scrutinised than ever.
You’ve got feel for those who, for whatever reason, don’t succeed. The nature of the competition actually makes building a successful squad very difficult. Each coach is asked to perform with just 23 players on their roster, only five foreign imports and a strict salary cap.
Which means that keeping the squad fit and injury free is basically integral to success. This season Sydney FC have been unable to settle on a backline due to the ongoing injuries of Pascal Bosschaart, Fabio and Adam Griffiths. Their dismal ‘goals against’ tally illustrates the problem.
By contrast, the Western Sydney Wanderers have been almost untroubled by injuries, and have gotten the most out of their foreign legion. It’s a credit to their rookie coach Tony Popovic.
And while the Mariners’ might be considered “boring”, we all know that stability is the key to success. Graham Arnold has added greater tactical awareness and style to the ‘no-frills’ foundation established by Lawrie McKinna.
But the standout, as expected, has been Ange Postecoglou.
After a few hiccups, he has moulded the team into a highly efficient unit, and gotten the most out of individuals like Mark Milligan, Billy Celeski and Leigh Broxham, who have all previously shown glimpses of their potential without ever really performing consistently.
You’ve got to wonder about the Ange Postecoglou factor. At the beginning of this season, we were promised passing combination football by nearly all the A-League coaches, including notorious long-ball managers Ricki Herbert and Ian Ferguson.
Ange has raised the bar, and many are struggling to keep up. He presence looms large over the entire competition.
Still, Ian Ferguson can hardly feel hard done by. His side may have almost won the grand final last season, but they’ve never looked like a truly dominant side. Their late run in the finals masked some serious deficiencies.
It’s not as if Ferguson didn’t give it a go. As Vince Rugari mentioned a few weeks ago, his squad was perhaps the best on paper in the league.
You can’t fault his recruitment. But that’s just part of the story.
In truth, the manager has become the arbiter of success for A-League clubs. Aside from a few absolute standouts, most players in this competition are pretty much of similar standard.
It’s the coach who can turn them from underachiever to standout performer. Just look at the transformation of Mark Bridge and Michael Beauchamp under Popovic at Western Sydney.
As for Perth, it’s not all bad news. With Ferguson gone, Perth Glory old-boys Alistair Edwards and Gareth Naven have been given an opportunity to turn the club’s fortunes around.
As a one-time city councillor for Cockburn in Perth’s southern suburbs and a former striker for the Glory during the dying days of the NSL, Edwards is a logical choice in the west.
Let’s hope he is given the time to make his own impression on the squad beyond this season. The interim manager role does nobody any favours.
We’ve seen our fair share of marquee players in the A-League, with varying degrees of success. But considering the difficulty of the job and the closeness of the competition, is it time for an A-League club to hire a marquee coach?
It may prove to be a more worthwhile long-term investment.