When something is described as toxic, the intent is to convey its effects as being frightfully painful and uncomfortable.
The word is used to describe things that are well beyond bad; not merely that slightly outdated cold cut of ham in the fridge or something with the potential to inflict minor discomfort.
These words were used describe the final days of Alen Stajcic’s Matildas reign. The results of a ‘well-being’ report were used to trigger FFA’s move to oust him from his position as national coach in January of 2019.
The murkiness surrounding the decision, those pulling the strings in the background and the questionable information presented by them, still linger.
A good man’s name was tarnished and an excellent football team forced to re-adjust just five months prior to a World Cup. Little or no clarity was ever provided around Stajcic’s sacking.
With some class, Stajcic accepted his fate silently, bar a public statement where he expressed concern over the effects the saga had taken on his family. From all who know him well, it appears that is his way and not surprising at all to those who have a close friendship with the 46-year-old.
Despite the fact that FFA Director Heather Reid made a public statement of apology to Stajcic and his family after previously claiming that if people knew the actual facts about his behaviour “they would be shocked”, the coach never received the treatment nor answers to which he was entitled.
Such comments, along with some cleverly leaked nonsense that many journalists ran with around the time of his departure, formed the basis of the loose case that FFA used to dismiss him.
No doubt forlorn, hurt and angry, Stajcic had a lifeline thrown his way within three months when the Central Coast Mariners grew tired of poor results under Mike Mulvey and appointed him for the short term.
Potentially gun shy and riddled with self-doubt after being undermined in some a comprehensive manner, Stajcic made an immediate impact in Gosford, managing a few late-season wins. The men in yellow were still to finish bottom with just three wins and four draws from 27 matches, however, something had changed.
Roll the clock forward eight months and the man with supposed flaws in developing, modelling and maintaining a culture within a football team has already accumulated four wins from just 12 matches.
The club is off the bottom thanks to derby rivals Newcastle and currently sits two points from Melbourne Victory, who occupy the sixth spot on the ladder.
Considering a few close run things along the way and some gallant second-half performances, the points haul could be even a little better for Central Coast so far. However, most teams would say the same thing when looking back at opportunities lost over the first third of the season.
Points aside, what Stajcic has been able to achieve in well under 12 months is quite remarkable. Prior to his arrival, the squad had become rabble-like. Manager after manager had come and gone, a youthful team often looked out of its depth and imported foreigners had failed to provide leadership and influence on a consistent basis.
So what did the Mariners do? They hired a tarnished man with no A-League managerial experience who within months instilled attitude, vigour and resilience into the Mariners’ squad. Far from toxic, Central Coast look confident, bonded and happy.
Reid’s comments must surely have her choking on her Coco-Pops as she catches up on all the current A-League news; something I’m sure she does on a weekly basis.
On Sunday afternoon, the Mariners pulled off the most dramatic of wins at Central Coast Stadium against Melbourne Victory. Two late Matt Simon penalties and VAR made sure of that, but the Mariners’ fight on the pitch was the most impressive aspect for any neutrals watching the contest.
Throw aside all the frustration of Marco Kurz, the influence of technology and the luck and fortune that teeter-tottered both ways during the game and one compelling truth became clear for fans of the Central Coast Mariners.
Alen Stajcic, a man supposedly responsible for toxic team culture in a previous gig, has turned a young and oft-maligned team into one that now competes hard, playing both for each other and with belief.
Will they make the finals? Probably not. Yet writing off that possibility would be foolish at this point, considering the positive change in culture, professionalism and attitude that Alen Stajcic has brought to the Central Coast.
We shouldn’t be surprised really, the Matildas used to talk about it all the time.