Intriguing characters prowling the touchline
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.