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Having a merry go 'round: The A-League coaches 'stamping their value' in 2024

19th February, 2024
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Expert
19th February, 2024
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Season 2023/24 of the A-League promised much and is delivering in spades, with a handful of coaches stamping their value as shrewd and effective operators in Australia’s top level of domestic football.

Sydney FC looked a rabble for an extended period under former manager Steve Corica. The fans were calling for change, the style of footballing being played by the team was mediocre at best and the need for a more positive and progressive style under a coach moving with the times and closer to the modern cutting edge, obvious to those with any knowledge of how the game really works.

Whilst far from being smooth sailing for the former Wellington Phoenix mentor after arriving in the harbour city, the change he has made to both the Sky Blues’ culture and performance is obvious and a team now seemingly destined for a low-table result, is inside the top six and looking for more as the final third of the competition approaches.

Since Talay’s arrival, Sydney have won eight matches, drawn two and lost to the Wanderers, Macarthur, Victory and Adelaide. It has been an impressive run and the disgruntled tone emanating from within the Sydney FC fan base has quietened dramatically as the goals have rained in under the new manager.

Few dislike Steve Corica, yet the change has been one even blind Freddy could not have missed. The fans and pundits were right. Corica had reached his use-by date.

(Photo by Mark Brake/Getty Images)

Almost 4,000 kilometres detached from Talay’s excellent work in rebuilding a Sydney FC team that should always be competing at the top end considering all the factors at play, is former Matilda and Central Coast Mariner coach Alen Stajcic.

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A friend to most and a quality human for all those gifted the opportunity to speak to and/or deal with him, the 50-year-old has proven once again that he has one of the most astute minds in the Australian game: slowly but surely lifting Perth Glory into contention after what was, admittedly, a slow and concerning start to the season.

Glory now have a new owner, seemingly determined to spring the club back into life from a corporate perspective after a lean period. Quietly, Stajcic has been doing the same on the training ground and deserves credit for it.

A 3-2 win over the Roar on Saturday parlayed the good news delivered to the club from an ownership perspective just a few days earlier and off the back of a solid period of football through January and February, Stajcic’s men are snaking their way up a congested ladder.

Unbeaten in five, Perth are still conceding far too many goals and Stajcic will still be having sleepless nights around his defensive unit that seems incapable of keeping a clean sheet. Yet, Glory are banging them in at the attacking end week after week, with my prediction for the 2023/24 Golden Boot Adam Taggart making a serious run at the award.

The run home for Glory does look a tricky one, with plenty of top-six contenders to face on the road to the A-League finals in May. However, should form count for anything and a home-ground advantage be of value, Perth have as good a chance as a few just above them on the ladder.

Coaching as well as any other in the league is Central Coast Mariner manager Mark Jackson, another guiding a team recovering after a slow start to the season.

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Now second on the A-League ladder, the Mariners are flying, beaten just once in the league since November 12 and looking every bit as good as the championship-winning team of just 12 months ago.

As brilliantly as Nick Montgomery did with the squad last season, Jackson appears, despite the loss of some serious talent up front, to have the men from Gosford in equal if not better form and surging towards a top-four position.

With immense pressure on his back at the start of the campaign, Jackson has pulled the right reins with conviction. The fans are increasingly flooding back to Industree Group Stadium and the Mariner dream of a second consecutive championship is not something I would be betting against as the season develops.

Across the ditch in New Zealand, as the threat of a second club grows ever more real, Giancarlo Italiano has his Phoenix flying, with a five-point lead at the top of the A-League ladder and looking the class of the field.

The Mariners on their day can beat anyone, yet Italiano has lost just twice in 18 games and after building a team from the ashes of the Talay era in Wellington, is eyeing off a championship the New Zealanders can and could well win.

All four are coaching their proverbials off, as some others struggle and flounder in the middle of the pack. It is unlikely Stajcic can lift Glory to the top four, yet finals would be an achievement in itself. Talay looks to have his team on the right course.

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However, Italiano and Jackson could well be set for battle on the final day of the season and all four are increasing their value in the process.

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