In­trigu­ing char­ac­ters prowl­ing the touch­line

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - FOOTBALL -

AND so, the A-League man­age­rial merry-go-round con­tin­ues.

Of course, it’s got noth­ing on the Premier League, home to a record 15 changes last sea­son.

Still, for a sec­ond suc­ces­sive do­mes­tic cam­paign, five of the 10 coaches come newly-ap­pointed and with vary­ing de­grees of pedi­gree.

One, Ger­man Markus Babbel, ar­rives ex­pe­ri­enced but untested in Aus­tralia’s unique foot­ball en­vi­ron­ment.

Other fresh faces, such as Steve Cor­ica and Mark Ru­dan, join the top flight com­pletely green.

Then there’s the tried-and-tested Tony Popovic and Mike Mul­vey, proven high-achiev­ers set on tak­ing their own spe­cial brand of suc­cess to new sur­round­ings.

For the neu­tral, it’s a com­pelling blend of for­eign blood, lo­cal rook­ies and a splash of mu­si­cal chairs.

The in­cum­bents, though, should be laugh­ing. Be­cause, save for a few ex­cep­tions, sta­bil­ity at the top has been a cen­tral tenet of on-field pros­per­ity over the years.

That’s per­haps re­flected in the way Kevin Mus­cat, the longest­serv­ing of the cur­rent crop at their present club, has two ti­tles and an­other grand fi­nal to show for his five years. And how he en­dured a near-fa­tal slump mid-last sea­son.

Shrewd off-sea­son re­cruit­ment, fea­tur­ing World Cup play­ers Keisuke Honda and Ola Toivo­nen, re­veals Mus­cat’s de­signs on back-to-back cham­pi­onships.

Al­ready, there’s a queue to stop him, none more en­thu­si­as­tic than for­mer Vic­tory men­tor-turned­com­bat­ant Ernie Mer­rick, whose New­cas­tle Jets so con­tro­ver­sially lost

May’s de­cider. Ini­tially, crit­i­cised as re­cy­cled and past it, the Scot­tishAus­tralian’s dy­namic style and steady hand steered his in­her­ited wood­en­spoon­ers within cen­time­tres of steal­ing Syd­ney FC’s even­tual ru­n­away premier­ship.

The 65-year-old’s as­tute player re­ten­tion will work in his favour.

English­man War­ren Joyce and Ger­man Marco Kurz are the only oth­ers en­ter­ing their sec­ond cam­paign.

Kurz as­sem­bled an in­dus­tri­ous Ade­laide that could yet draw con­fi­dence from an FFA Cup fi­nal tri­umph against Syd­ney this month.

The bar ap­pears set high for Joyce, who se­cured City’s best fin­ish at third but missed a chance to make the grand fi­nal and must again at­tempt to de­liver on un­re­alised po­ten­tial.

He’s not the only one feel­ing the squeeze; Cor­ica’s task at Syd­ney is some­what more un­en­vi­able. Fill­ing the boots of a man who or­ches­trated a record-break­ing 2016-17 cham­pi­onship, two suc­ces­sive pre­mier­ships and an FFA Cup isn’t an easy as­sign­ment even for a vet­eran.

Cor­ica points out one key dif­fer­ence in the pop­u­lar Alex Fer­gu­son-David Moyes anal­ogy.

“Re­mem­ber, I was a part of that un­der Arnie, too,’’ Cor­ica told Fox Sports.

“It wasn’t just one per­son who won all the tro­phies.

“It was a team ef­fort and it will be a con­tin­u­a­tion of that this sea­son.”

The same can be said for John Aloisi who, in his fourth sea­son at Bris­bane, is fi­nally rid of the off-field is­sues that have plagued his ten­ure.

That, cou­pled with im­proved ac­qui­si­tions, sug­gests this is the time for the club’s long­est-serv­ing coach to make a state­ment.

Whether it’s on par with Mul­vey’s 2013-14 dou­ble is an­other ques­tion en­tirely, though Aloisi’s Roar pre­de­ces­sor has a dis­tinctly dif­fer­ent chal­lenge on his hands at Cen­tral Coast Mariners.

In the same vein as New­cas­tle’s light-bulb Mer­rick mo­ment, the Mariners re­placed Paul Okon with an ex­pe­ri­enced head coach who’s been there and done it all be­fore.

And, hav­ing re­cruited sharply from an un­prece­dented pot of funds, Mul­vey is up­beat about the min­now’s prospects de­spite two wooden spoons in the past three years.

So, too, should be Tony Popovic, back from his ill-fated Turkey stint to give the A-League an­other crack at Perth Glory.

In some re­spects, Popovic is the an­tithe­sis of Kenny Lowe, the charis­matic English­man re­lieved of his du­ties af­ter an­other frus­trat­ingly be­low-par sea­son. Not well-known for witty one-lin­ers, the am­bi­tious exSoc­ceroos de­fender is a dis­ci­plinar­ian to ri­val the Marcelo Bielsa fig­ures of the world.

That’s of equal pri­or­ity at his for­mer club Western Syd­ney.

The hi­er­ar­chy steered clear of a prodi­gal-son Popovic re­turn, opt­ing in­stead for a for­mer Liver­pool and Bay­ern Mu­nich de­fender boast­ing a decade of Euro­pean man­age­rial ex­pe­ri­ence.

The task is tall, though markedly more straight­for­ward than Ru­dan’s.

Hav­ing twice won the NSW and Aus­tralian NPL ti­tle with Syd­ney United, the new Phoenix coach has waited years for a first A-League gig.

Now the for­mer Syd­ney FC cap­tain’s pas­sion will un­dergo rig­or­ous test­ing at a club bat­tling to avoid the wooden spoon and for its own con­tin­ued ex­is­tence.

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