Two of Australian football’s biggest personalities, Ange Postecoglou and Graham Arnold, have both departed the A-League in the last three weeks, drastically changing the landscape of the competition.
Ange and Arnie have moved up in the world, and it is hard to begrudge their ambition, but the teams they are leaving behind could now struggle to claim any silverware this season.
Defending champions Central Coast Mariners, who Arnold left to join Japanese outfit Vegalta Sendai, and perennial heavyweights Melbourne Victory, who lost Postecoglou to the Socceroos, started the campaign as the two favourites to win the title. While both will continue along a similar course, and may still have an important say in the finals series, it is difficult to see either going all the way without their talismanic managers.
Arnold has been chased by a number of Asian clubs for some time now, a testament to his superb work with the Mariners, both domestically and in the Asian Champions League; while Postecoglou’s selection as national team head coach is a sign that Australian football is finally coming of age.
Their respective replacements, who were promoted from within each club, should do well in the long term. Each have pledged to continue along the same trajectory as their predecessors, and in terms of playing style and preparation methods, there is little reason to think they will shake things up. In both cases, though, a lack of experience in the top job is likely to hurt them this season.
Kevin Muscat, who was Postecoglou’s understudy at the Victory, has had three matches in charge so far. He did not pass either test with flying colours.
In his first match as coach, Muscat’s Victory raced to a 3-0 lead against Wellington Phoenix within 30 minutes, but failed to close out the match convincingly, allowing their opponents to pull two goals back.
A 3-2 loss to Sydney FC followed, with Muscat’s team unable to capitalise on the man advantage they enjoyed for a large portion of the game.
The latest results, a 1-0 loss to the Western Sydney Wanderers in wet and windy conditions.
It is impossible to know how differently Ange would have handled the mid-match decisions in each case, but the rookie’s lack of experience may have been a factor in his players’ less-than-impressive second-half performances.
Meanwhile, Phil Moss was hastily appointed to the top job at the Mariners this week as Arnold left for Japan almost immediately upon announcing his decision to quit the club.
His first challenge, against Wellington Phoenix tomorrow (December 19, 7:30pm), will give an indication of his own abilities in the heat of battle.
While Muscat is no doubt a big personality, and Moss describes himself as similar to Arnold in many ways, there is no doubt both clubs will feel the loss of the aura that their outgoing coaches’ possess.
Neither man has ever been afraid to stand front and centre stage and take the full glare of the limelight; something which generally proves valuable for their teams.
Whether they are standing up to the FFA, highlighting perceived refereeing errors, or taking the heat off of players after a poor showing, Ange and Arnie were charismatic leaders at their clubs.
The latest example came last weekend, when Arnold’s somewhat outrageous claims that a young linesman was bullied out of making a hand ball decision by referee Ben Williams took post-match attention away from his side’s lacklustre display in their loss to Brisbane Roar.
The media and fans (even rival fans) will miss such giant personalities in the domestic game, but Central Coast and Melbourne Victory will miss them more.
Assuming these strong sides still make the top six, Muscat and Moss won’t yet have enough games under their belt to negotiate the pressure cooker environment of finals football with the calm assurance of the men they replaced.
The A-League may be in many ways worse off for the decampment of two of its legendary names, but the likes of Brisbane Roar and Western Sydney Wanderers will be secretly pleased that their title hopes have suddenly been given a massive boost.