Central Coast have squandered the opportunity to lock away their first A-League finals appearance in seven years, upset by lowly Newcastle 2-0 in the F3 derby at Gosford.
Oliver Bozanic has been a standout player this season in a rejuvenated Central Coast Mariners side.
His leadership, control and classiness in the centre of midfield have deservedly made him a potential contender for the Johnny Warren Medal.
Based on his form, and the experience and leadership he brings to the table, Bozanic should be seriously considered for a place in Graham Arnold’s Socceroos squad.
Although the early-season form that saw the Central Coast race out of the blocks has waned in recent weeks, the Mariners have the potential to go all the way in the upcoming finals series.
Under the excellent coaching of Alen Stajcic, the Mariners have combined exciting youth talent – such as Alou Kuol and Josh Nisbet – with reliable professionals – including Mark Birighitti and club legend Matt Simon – to create a well disciplined side.
Key to their success has been the presence of the seasoned Bozanic in the centre of the park. He brings extensive experience from his time featuring for teams overseas in Scotland, Japan, Switzerland and England.
In his return to the A-League this season, the Mariners’ skipper has dominated the midfield for his side. He has started all but one game for the Central Coast, racking up 1786 minutes thus far.
As captain, his leadership on and off the field have made a noticeable impact on the attitude and commitment of the players around him.
Distribution, composure and match awareness are key to Bozanic’s game. His touch, range of passing and control in tight areas are a joy to watch.
In a team that has averaged just under 47 per cent possession this season, Bozanic makes 59.04 passes per game, completing 86 per cent of these attempts. Often dropping deep between his two centrebacks, Bozanic dictates the tempo of the Mariners’ build-up play.
He has formed a formidable partnership in the centre of the park with the promising Gianni Stensness. Bozanic’s form this season has been recognised by his fellow players. He won the PFA Player of the Month award for February.
Based on his form alone, Bozanic should be in serious consideration for a place in Graham Arnold’s Socceroos squad. However, the experience and leadership that he possess are just as valuable.
Bozanic’s last appearance for the Socceroos was in 2015, as a substitute in a friendly match against Macedonia. In total he has played seven times at the senior international level. Bozanic has indicated his desire to add to his international caps, claiming in February that he would “love to get more opportunities to play for Australia”.
His positional evolution to a deeper midfield role could provide a new opportunity for reintegration into the Socceroos’ side.
Although it would prove difficult to dislodge incumbents Aaron Mooy, James Jeggo and Jackson Irvine, Bozanic has proven over the course of the 2020-21 A-League season that he has the ability to play again at the highest level.
An experienced and composed leader at the base of the Socceroos’ midfield to distribute and dictate play may be just what is needed.
Even if he was not to feature, Bozanic’s presence would also provide serious competition for these midfield roles, perhaps spurring on the incumbents to greater heights.
If Bozanic does not make the cut for Graham Arnold’s Socceroos squad, he should also be considered as one of three possible over-age players for the Olyroos’ upcoming Olympics campaign. Drawn in a challenging Group C, featuring Argentina, Egypt and Spain, the Olyroos’ campaign kicks off on July 22.
A number of eligible Mariners players are in hot contention for a spot in the 18-player squad to be announced in June – including Daniel De Silva (11 under-23 caps), Daniel Bouman (eight caps), Ruon Tongyik (three caps) and Kye Rowles (one cap).
Young flyers Alou Kuol and Josh Nisbet have burst onto the scene this season, and are also deserving of a chance to showcase their talent at the Olympics.
Bozanic’s leadership capabilities have already been highlighted in a much improved Central Coast side this season. His experience and composure could provide the young Olyroos with a valuable boost against tough opposition at the Olympics.
However, Arnold has indicated that he is reluctant to select over-age players in his Olyroos squad, arguing that “I will not pick an over-age player just for the sake of a name”.
Regardless, based on his form this season, combined with his experience and leadership, Bozanic should be seriously considered for either a return to the Socceroos or Olyroos.