On Monday, Mitch Duke became the latest Central Coast Mariners product to depart Gosford at an early age and link up with a club of superior resources.
Despite his 13 goals from 36 A-League starts and four Socceroos caps, the 24-year-old is not irreplaceable. The timing of his move to established Japanese outfit Shimizu S-Pulse is reasonably favourable for the Mariners, assuming fair compensation has been paid. Duke’s development has stalled–not aided by Phil Moss’ reluctance to play him naturally as a centre-forward–and goals dried up since his breakout 2012/13 season.
Losing a player of potential, at least when used correctly, is rarely ideal, but Duke’s sale at least represents a moment of meditation on what the club is about, what it does well and from where it sources pride, amidst times of conflicting and questionable directions.
It’s in the Mariners’ genes; their natural mode of survival. Each of their A-League rivals at some stage have to sell by nature of the salary cap, so there’s no reason to be ashamed. Indeed, nurturing talent is worn as a badge of honour by a club that actively distances itself from the player attraction power of competitors.
Recent news, though, suggests the Mariners are internally conflicted about their future goals, after last week announcing a partnership with English Premier League club Everton.
“The agreement will also work both ways, with Everton hoping to utilise the Hyundai A-League as a way for their Under-21 Development players to benefit from the chance of first team football with the Mariners”, a club statement read.
Positives for the former Australian champions are not immediately obvious. Their claim of “a direct link to a legendary and prestigious English Premier Club” is not an exaggeration, but neither is it instructive of any purpose. The arrangement has also been described as “non-exclusive and exploratory” by Central Coast. Hopefully further exploration will uncover a favourable angle to the deal.
One advantage that can be reasonably claimed is a new pathway to the top for players. Realistically, any jump to a Premier League club will be based almost entirely on the potential of a particularly young player–say, a 17-year-old Terry Antonis-type – rather than any big-money move for an established star that would provide a significant windfall. At any rate, providing pathways to arguably more enviable environments has never been an issue.
No official partnership was needed to place Mat Ryan at Club Brugge, or Trent Sainsbury at PEC Zwolle, or Mustafa Amini and Tom Rogic at Borussia Dortmund and Celtic respectively.
News of a mooted two-way player exchange is further tempered by the guaranteed arrival of Under-21 Development players from the Toffees, a development questioned by Australia U17 National Team coach Tony Vidmar. The former Mariners man offered a key concern on Twitter:
— Tony Vidmar (@tonyvidmar) February 4, 2015
Are a pair of inexperienced youngsters the best use of the Mariners’ allocation of five foreigners? Their loan deals won’t allow for long A-League careers, nor future financial profit. Thomas Broich has become the league’s greatest player after arriving as a 29-year-old, not aged 19.
The only apparent positive is centred on an increased reputation. Yet that’s at odds with the Mariners’own preferred identity, self-described as a “boutique” club in their Twitter biography. The recent ‘Cashed Up Arnie’ campaign directed at former boss Graham Arnold seemingly cemented their odd desire to be small-scale.
Trent Sainsbury followed his fellow Central Coast alumnus Vidmar by commenting on the opportunities afforded to young Australians in the A-League–the Mariners’trademark that is now under threat.
@tonyvidmar for a league with no relegation u would think coaches would give more youngens a go. The dutch weather brought me straight back
— Trent Sainsbury (@Tsainsbury92) February 7, 2015
Sainsbury is one great beneficiary of the fading Mariners model. There are many others like him. An appreciation of those achievements should not be lost in the name of associating with the cool kids.
Moss claimed the Mariners to be in a“rebuilding phase” upon the Everton announcement. If that’s with an eventually grander structure in mind, then great; onwards and upwards. But they must be careful to ensure the building blocks are all of the same composition.