MICHAEL Valkanis first felt the coaching bug bite when he was playing in Greece in his mid 20s.
And, thrust in to the interim coaching role at Melbourne City last week after the shock departure of John van ‘t Schip, the Victorian says he plans to enjoy his new role for as long as it lasts.
Soccer was always Valkanis’ calling given he started rising through the South Melbourne junior ranks from the age of six.
Growing up in Armadale and later Glen Waverley, the De La Salle College student achieved a “lifelong dream” of playing for South’s senior team in 1993, before his career took him to Greece in 1996 and back to the National Soccer League in 2002.
The defender thought his return to Australia would be with South.
“But life springs up opportunities, ones that you don’t expect sometimes, and Adelaide City came in for me,” Valkanis told the Herald Sun.
“Honestly, it probably ended up being one of the best decisions of my life. Because when you look back it at you don’t realise how significant a decision it was in terms of where I was going to go next.”
A season at Adelaide City morphed into a season with start-up club Adelaide United, which then turned into an A-League career with the Reds, a club he would go on to captain.
While there he played one game for the Socceroos, a 2006 Asian Cup qualifier against Kuwait — “something I keep telling my sons about” — and then, once he retired in 2009, he moved into the club’s coaching ranks.
Management, he said, was something he had contemplated for a while.
“It was probably back when I was in Greece when I was about 26, a couple of years before I came back to Australia,” he said.
“I was really into it and that’s when I really started taking notes and listening more to coaches.
“It was a natural course that I took. I was also captain of my club in Greece for four years, so I took on a lot more responsibility.
“Being a defender I was always also very vocal at the back, organising things. You take that natural next step.”
But just because he was a defender doesn’t mean that he plans on becoming a dour coach.
“I like attacking football,” he said.
“And when I look back at it now, in terms of the philosophy I believe in and how I like teams to play, I had a lot of those coaches in Greece as well.”
Valkanis is a huge wrap for Josep Gombau, who he worked under at Adelaide, particularly on the player management side of coaching.
The 42-year-old said the most valuable experience for him was working with Gombau for Adelaide’s senior team in the morning and then implementing his learnings in his role coaching the club’s youth team in the afternoon.
“Those three years, including the team with Gui Amor — same philosophy — was really six years of experience for me,” he said.
“It was double the workload, but I loved it.”
Valkanis is coy as to whether or not he thinks he is the man to take City forward in the long-term.
But as long as he’s in the role, Valkanis says he is living the dream.
“I’ve always wanted to be a head coach.
“But at the same time, when you’ve come out of the game, you can be in a rush to do that.
“Whenever it will be it will be. Right now at City I’m in charge and I’m going to enjoy it because I love doing what I do.
“But all we can do now is focus on each game and then let nature take its course.”
© 2016 Herald Sun | This article first appeared in the Herald Sun on 11 January 2017.