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Sack race safest bet in erratic A-League

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The salary cap, restrictions on squad sizes and the number of foreign players that can be signed, along with mandatory requirements for a number of younger men to be part of the first team set-up, mean the A-League is one of the most highly regulated soccer competitions in the world.

It also makes it one of the hardest to predict. The equalisation measures have worked to bring the clubs together, and while some have more cash and better off-field set-ups, those advantages don’t always translate into guarantees of on-field success.

<p></p>In most seasons the finals race has been open until very late in the day – which is good for fans, good for the broadcasters and good for sponsors and investors, even if it makes tipping a winner harder than most other leagues.

But if picking winners is fraught with danger, there is probably one bet that can be made with relative confidence: that one or more clubs will finish the season with a different coach in charge to the man who is presiding at the round one kickoff at the weekend.

It’s just the way it is in soccer, a volatile sport all over the world where the patience of club owners, financiers and fans alike is wafer thin. Still, it’s a sobering thought for those men at the helm this week.

Last season five A-League clubs changed coaches during the campaign. Some were moved on, some chose to go.

Rado Vidosic, finally given his chance in charge in Brisbane following Ange Postecoglou’s departure to Melbourne, lasted 11 games before he was replaced by Mike Mulvey.

John Kosmina, back for a second stint in Adelaide, found that remarrying the same partner didn’t paper over the cracks of the previous relationship. He went on Australia Day, replaced on a temporary basis by Mike Valkanis who himself has now given way to Spaniard Josep Gombau.

Sydney invested high hopes not just on Alessandro Del Piero but new coach Ian Crook, who had been part of the club’s coaching staff. But a distraught Crook had had enough six rounds in. Steve Corica took the reins on a temporary basis before handing over to current
incumbent Frank Farina.

In Perth the fact that Ian Ferguson and his assistant Stuart Munro had got the Glory to the grand final the previous season counted for little when things were not going to the liking of club bosses midway through the last campaign. Ferguson lasted through much of the season before being given his marching orders, to be replaced by Alistair Edwards for the final games of the 2012-13 campaign.

And in Wellington the man who had looked like the immoveable object, Ricki Herbert (he had been in charge pretty much since the start of the Phoenix’s existence), also parted company with the club to concentrate on his other job, trying to take the All Whites to the World Cup.

The owners in the windy city had been making noises that they weren’t happy with the prosaic but effective style the Kiwis often adopted and they wanted something more exciting, so the writing was firmly on the wall for Herbert. He was replaced on a temporary basis by his assistant, Chris Greenacre, but the Englishman made it clear he didn’t think he was ready for the top job on a full-time basis.

The Phoenix turned to former Victory boss Ernie Merrick to turn the yellow and black ship around.

So five went last year, four the season before (if Branko Culina, who was replaced in Newcastle before a ball was even kicked, is included).

On that basis the only A-League certainty this year should be managerial change. As all of them know, each day you spend in charge at a soccer club means you are one day closer to the sack.

© 2013 The Age | This article was written by Michael Lynch and first appeared in The Age on 7 October 2013.

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