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Gary Cole: There is no better time than now to unify the game

Socceroos great Gary Cole feels it is now time to “find a way to heal” the wounds of the past and move forward for the good of the game.

In a wide-ranging interview with Soccerscene, the former NSL striker believes FFA CEO James Johnson is the right man to lead Australian football into a new era, incorporating “the best of both” the old NSL and A-League.

“I think James has been an absolute breath of fresh air,” he said.

“You couldn’t have wished a worse start on a person to take over that role.

“My hat’s off to him and I just can’t applaud him enough for the start he has made and his willingness to listen and engage.”

Cole remains involved with the game in some capacity, after being elected as a member of Football Coaches Australia’s Executive Committee, late last year.

The 64-year-old has a strong belief that coaching education in Australia needs to improve and was a major factor behind his decision to put his name forward for FCA.

“Coaches have never had a seat at the table (in the game) for the last 30 odd years,” Cole said.

“Today (with FCA), we’ve got a good working relationship with James, Chris Nikou and the FFA board.

“We are talking regularly, having zoom meetings; they understand that coaches are an important part of the game. It’s absolutely terrific.”

Throughout his coaching career, Cole would go on to be an assistant to Socceroos coach Frank Arok, as well as managing various clubs in the old National Soccer League and Victorian Premier League.

The ex-Heidelberg player admits he was fortunate to land his first coaching gig, as an assistant to Ron Smith at the AIS in 1987.

“I was always going to go into coaching and I was incredibly lucky that in my last year of playing as a 30-year-old at Preston, I went and did my Senior License (equivalent of an A Coaching License today).

“That was at the end of my career, then within six months I applied for and accepted a role as Ron’s assistant at the AIS. So that was absolutely incredible.

“At the age of 30 I had a full-time job in coaching and I have to say at the time I didn’t realise how lucky I was to do that.”

The mentorship he received and experience he gained from working alongside Smith, has led Cole to question the way Australia develops coaches in recent times.

“I had an incredible coach and mentor in Ron who I worked with day in, day out. So, not only did I just complete a coaching license, I got to practice on a daily basis with someone there who would coach me as a coach and answer my questions.

“When I left and came back to Victoria because my mum developed cancer, I coached Heidelberg in the old NSL and I still had my coaching mentor on the other end of the phone.

“Nowadays, most modern coaches don’t have that.

“We’ve done a terrific job at getting thousands of coaches through coaching courses. But, getting a coaching license is a bit like being an 18-year-old and getting your driver’s license, it gives you access to the roads but it doesn’t make you a great driver.”

The AIS program was recently brought back into focus after a panel of six former ‘golden generation’ Socceroos heralded the setup and its role in their football development, in a recent Optus Sport discussion.

Cole echoed their sentiments claiming “It was integral to the development of players at that point in time.”

“Those guys all had wonderful talent but what Ron Smith did was turn the AIS into perhaps the best professional finishing school for athletes that we have ever seen.

“It was a wonderful opportunity for both players and coaches to develop and I was very sorry to see it go.”

When quizzed on the possibility of a reformation of the program, the Socceroos goal scorer believes the ship has sailed on that front, due to the current structure implemented in the game.

“Most countries around the world now have some sort of national coaching setup and some of those have a system like Clairefontaine in France, which is still there,” he said.

“But we are so different.”

According to the former Socceroos assistant, a country such as Belgium which is much smaller in size, makes it significantly easier to introduce a national setup.

That’s not the case in Australia, however.

“Here, we are so vast in distance and travel. I think it would be very difficult, because the model has been…to help A-League clubs develop academies and then…help NPL clubs develop academies.

“There are challenges around the depth and quality of the coaching talent, as well as getting kids in there. It’s not simple to answer.”

After an extremely decorated playing career in the NSL and the Socceroos, Cole looks back fondly on his time in the old national competition.

Memories of his playing days at Heidelberg stick out vividly in his mind, particularly the large crowds that would gather for matches against South Melbourne.

“It was a tough competition, played in smaller stadiums. We would have 15, 20, 25,000 people at Middle Park or Olympic Park (against South Melbourne).

“It was a real derby like Liverpool against Everton. You could have a terrible season, but if you won the derby then you are everyone’s hero.

“There was a great passion to it.”

Most NSL clubs at the time were ethnically based, which created distinct atmospheres at the grounds.

“You can remember the sights and sounds,” Cole said.

“Will Hastie (Executive Manager of Football at FV) and I were having a conversation last year, (saying) you could remember the smells from the different cultures.

“That multicultural background that it gave us was absolutely incredible.”

Cole described the transition between the end of the NSL and start of the A-League as a divisive period, which the game must now, after 15 years, finally try to put to bed.

“I loved the NSL, but so much was made out of the crowd trouble. It was bad at different times and that was a part of killing it off unfortunately.

“But by the same token, (when the A-League was created) it became ‘old soccer against new football’. It drove a stake in the heart of the game and developed this disconnect straight away.

“Not only because the (NSL) clubs couldn’t play in the top division, but we did away with the history. It was like the history of Australian football, for a long time, kicked off in 2004.”

In that year, Cole was appointed Melbourne Victory’s inaugural Football Operations Manager, a position he would hold for seven years, with the Victory winning two championships in that time.

There were certainly challenges in that period, including a board which was initially not comprised of football people.

Speaking about his time at Victory, Cole said it was “perhaps the most exciting and remarkable thing I’ve ever done.”

“I’m blessed that Ernie Merrick came on board. We brought in some great players, we developed some great talent and I’m very proud of that unique opportunity.”

Whilst a fantastic achievement, it would pale in comparison to the proudest moment in his football career.

“I can close my eyes and think about my first game for the Socceroos, standing on the pitch before the game against Greece in Melbourne.

“When you stand there with a green and gold shirt on and the national anthem plays, the hair on the back of your neck stands up.

“And then, you realise you’ve got an opportunity to represent your country.

“I’ve got a lot of things to be proud about in the game, but that for me is by far and away perhaps the best day.”

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Philip Panas is a sports journalist with Soccerscene. He reports widely on football policy and industry matters, drawing on his knowledge and passion of the game.

Football Coaches Australia present ‘The Football Coaching Life Podcast’ #6 with Gary Cole interviewing Ernie Merrick

Ernie Merrick is well known in Australian Football circles. He has coached most recently at Newcastle Jets, Wellington Phoenix and Melbourne Victory in the A-League.

Ernie Merrick is well known in Australian Football circles. He has coached most recently at Newcastle Jets, Wellington Phoenix and Melbourne Victory in the A-League, where he had great on-field success in terms of both results and developing players. Ernie also had a short stint as the Coach of the Hong Kong National Team.

Prior to his A League experiences Ernie played at Frankston City, coached, and played at Doveton and was assistant coach at Frankston Pines in the State Premier League.  He moved on from the Victorian competitions to the National Soccer League and coached at Preston Lions and Sunshine George Cross. He was then appointed as the inaugural Victorian Institute of Sport (VIS) Head Coach where he helped to develop players for the Australian Junior National teams – Josh Kennedy, Scott McDonald, Matthew Spiranovic, Eugene Galekovic, Paul Giannou, Con Blatsis, Danny Allsopp, Leigh Broxham, Adrian Leijer, Roddy & Andy Vargas, Jimmy Jeggo, Simon Colosimo and Vince Grella – to name a few!

Perhaps most well remembered as the hugely successful inaugural Coach at Melbourne Victory where he helped build one of the A-Leagues benchmark clubs from the ground up. During his time at Melbourne Victory from 2005 to 2011 he won the Championship in 2006-2007 and 2008-2009, the Premiership in 2006-2007 and 2008-2009 and the Pre-Season Cup in 2008-2009 completing the treble.

Ernie’s teams have always had a focus on attacking and scoring goals and indeed his record shows this.

Please join me in sharing Ernie Merrick’s Coaching Life.

https://thefootballcoachinglifepodcast.podbean.com/e/ernie-merrick/

Football Coaches Australia launch XV Essential Skills program

Football Coaches Australia and XVenture are launching its FCA XV Essential Skills education and professional development program.

Football Coaches Australia (FCA), in partnership with XVenture, is excited to launch its FCA XV Essential Skills education and professional development program.

A global first, this is a revolutionary new coach education and development program delivered via a rich and engaging virtual world learning experience. The program will be readily accessible for all coaches, from local football to elite football.

The series of modules aim to develop the ‘essential skills’ of coaching – Emotional intelligence, Leadership, Communication, Culture and Resilience. It is filled with contemporary examples from football globally, as well as providing an overview of key research across the five modules.

The modules contain 20 subjects presented in a variety of fully integrated and multi-media style materials in the form of videos, articles, activities and podcasts and connected tests to confirm understanding of key concepts.

Exterior of FCA College

FCA CEO Glenn Warry outlined the potential that the FCA XV Essential Skills program has in growing the reputation of Australian football domestically and internationally.

“Our vision as an organisation is to promote the strength and reputation of football in Australia, and the reputation of Australian football on the world stage, he said.

“Our partnership with XVenture is going to enable the FCA to position itself as a world leader in the delivery of unique professional development experiences for football coaches.”

FCA President Phil Moss will introduce the course to participating coaches as they make their way through the virtual world of the FCA XV College foyer. Moss is enthusiastic about the exciting opportunities offered by the alignment between FCA and XV.

“This is a world first opportunity presented initially to Australian coaches but accessible to every coach around the football universe,” he said.

“At the very heart of everything FCA stands for is ‘for Coaches, by coaches’ – so this an incredible opportunity to enhance the continuing education around every coach’s journey no matter what level they are working at. It is something we, along with our highly valued partners XVenture, are just so proud to present.

“The global pandemic has taught us to be more innovative than ever before & these Essential Skills programs, inside our very own FCA College, is taking that innovation to heights never before seen!”

Speaking on a webinar last Monday evening, XVenture founder Prof. Mike Conway acknowledged the importance coaches have – not just in developing individual talent, but in guiding and ensuring the wellbeing of their players.

“Coaches are taught to have amazing skillsets on technical, tactical and physical, they’ve had that for a long time… where I try to bring in a new & different perspective in the elite sport environment is in the areas of emotional intelligence, leadership and communication. Where teams apply these skills typically there are higher performance levels,” he said.

“If you go into the Socceroos camp it’s a beautiful environment. We’ve got to make sure that players want to be there as they’re traveling all over the world for 10 to 15 days at a time, so we’ve got to make it a really positive environment and how we do that is part of the various different subjects.

“This education platform is a big project and I’m massively committed to football, I’ve grown up with it and so I see the power and the strength of what we can do when we’ve got a great coach working with great young kids, we can make a lot of change.”

Each of the modules were constructed in accordance with the principles of the Attention, Generation, Emotion and Spacing (AGES) model in an effort to ensure coaches learn quickly and are able to retain information far beyond finishing the course. The platform will include a total of 103 subjects which will take between 10 to 15 minutes each to complete.

Warry, in speaking on the modern approach of the FCA XV Essential Skills program noted how influential it can be for young players.

“In my work with university students over the past twelve years the big thing they tell us about delivery of content is that they don’t want anything in ‘longer bites’ than 10-15 minutes,” he said.

“This is the way young people are learning these days. In designing the pedagogy and the delivery model, [we’ve built] a state-of-the-art program in the way we’re delivering education.”

Upon completion of each individual module, coaches will receive 30 CPD points from Football Australia – as well as recognition of prior learning from a major Australian University following the conclusion of all five modules.

Modules will be released through a gradual rollout starting Tuesday April 6, 2021 – accessible for registration here.

Football Coaching Life Podcast Recap: Episode Five with Graham Arnold

Graham Arnold was the special guest on episode five of Football Coaches Australia’s ‘The Football Coaching Life’ podcast.

Arnold has been to two World Cups as assistant to Gus Hiddink and Pim Verbeek, coached at two Asian Cups and Tokyo 2021 will be his second Olympics as Head Coach.

The current Socceroos coach has had wonderful success in the A-League winning Premierships and Championships with Central Coast Mariners and Sydney FC, as well as the FFA Cup with the Sky Blues.

Speaking with Gary Cole, Arnold touches on topics such as the past year’s difficulties due the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, how his coaching journey began, his successes at Central Coast and Sydney, the valuable lessons he has learnt along the way and much more.

Key Quotes in Episode Five

On the current structures of football in this country

“When you start looking at the overall sport of football in this country, right from the grassroots all the way up to professional, it’s big bash football.”

On his time working with Guus Hiddink

“He taught me more in 12 months, that I probably could’ve learnt in 10 years.”

His best lesson in coaching

“My best lesson I ever learnt was the 2007 Asian Cup. I stuffed that up big time and I knew I had. But what I tried to do…was I tried to manage the Guus Hiddink way. That was very rigid, very hard…and I didn’t have the power to deal with the ‘big boys’ in the end.”

On his man management style

“I’ve never let the players call me gaffer or the boss. It’s ‘Arnie’, and i’m there to help. I’m not there to rule with fear, or scare them or dictate to them. First and foremost, I’m there to support and help them become great players and great people.”

Final piece of wisdom for coaches

“Believe in yourself. It’s tough, coaching is not easy. Believe in your way and do it your way. Be flexible in the way you think, but at the end of it enjoy every day.”

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