Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Changing of the Coast Guard
For all his team's staleness over the past year, Lawrie McKinna's contribution to the nascent A-League has been considerable, and worthy of great respect. He oversaw a memorable first year in Gosford, in which the Mariners reached every final on offer, and did a great deal to foster the family-friendly community ethos at Bluetongue. No other team in the A-League has a smaller population base to draw from, yet the Mariners have always attracted decent crowds.
On the football front, it is probably true that McKinna had become jaded, and that a change was necessary. Contrary to many glib opinions, the Mariners played excellent football in their first season, with Tom Pondeljak, Dean Heffernan, Michael Beauchamp, Andre Gumprecht and Danny Vukovic all outstanding. It seems strange to say it now, but the Mariners were probably the best footballing side in the league in 2005/06.
Their challenge petered out in 2006/07, when several other sides found a pleasing groove and the Mariners suffered from a long injury list. But 2007/08 saw McKinna and his team pick up a largely deserved Premiers' Plate, with Mile Jedinak dominant in midfield and Matt Simon somehow unstoppable up front despite his obvious technical deficiencies. The football wasn't always pretty, but few other sides that season did any better.
It was with the departure of Jedinak that the wheels began to fall off, and McKinna suddenly appeared unable to respond properly to the problems facing the team. The nadir was reached with the disastrous 2009 Asian Champions League campaign, in which the Mariners' surprising weakness at set-pieces was never remedied.
Sydney fans with long memories might recall that McKinna very nearly became Sydney FC manager prior to the 2006/07 season, instead of Terry Butcher. Would the club have been spared the various upheavals of the last few years had the affable Scotsman taken the reins?
So then: Arnold. He has certainly cut an unimpressive figure in recent times; his extended disappearance after the Olyroos' dismal campaign in China was undignified and unprofessional, and his tactics at the event bespoke a lack of ideas. In general, his spell in charge of the two national teams found him effective if somewhat unimaginative during the qualifying series, but out of his depth at the "main events". The 2007 Asian Cup featured some of the poorest Socceroo performances of recent times, although inadequate preparation was partly responsible for this.
At club level, Arnold's only gig was a similarly insipid one at Northern Spirit. His task in Gosford will be considerable; the squad is short on quality, morale appears low, and support among the fans might be grudging at first. We shall see.