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Mark Rudan – ‘Western United to become Australia’s next biggest club’

Mark Rudan has always been a quiet achiever. He always let his boots do the talking either as a no nonsense central defender or fullback.

Mark Rudan, the Western United senior coach, has always been a quiet achiever.

As a professional player he always let his boots do the talking either as a no nonsense central defender or fullback.

Life after football can be very difficult for many former players but Rudan has made the transition to coaching with total aplomb.

After cementing his career with NSW NPL 1 club, Sydney United, where his teams won a number of honours, Rudan turned the fortunes of a depressed Wellington Phoenix in the 2018/19 A-League and recently completed an outstanding, maiden season with debutantes, Western United.

However, if you ask Mark Rudan whether life is easy in the cutthroat world of football coaching, he will confirm a consistent work ethic , detailed research, analysis and preparation and superior man management skills are essential in any coaching success story.

In this interview with Roger Sleeman, Rudan reflects on his playing career, coaching experience and football philosophy.

 

ROGER SLEEMAN

You were part of that amazing Sydney United production line of the 1990’s which included Jason Culina, David Zdrilic, Tony Popovic, Ante Milicic, Paul Bilokapic , Ante Moric and Sean and Mark Babic.

Can this ever be replicated?

MARK RUDAN

Football goes in cycles but a lot of things we do now on the pitch were done in the 1970’s.

However, these days, there are vast improvements in preparation, player welfare and diet.

People try to complicate the game but it can be a very simple if you treat it that way.

In relation to the golden era at Sydney United, you have to remember there was a strong tradition in the Croatian community and a way for our parents to integrate into the wider community through the football club.

Consequently, we gave everything on the football field in recognition of our heritage.

I remember the youth coaches like former Socceroo, Dennis Yaager who helped me so much and in particular,Maurice Sullivan, the legendary club flanker, who coached me in u14’s and was a great influence on my career because he told me if I put the work in I could make the grade.

 

ROGER SLEEMAN

When you first came through the Sydney United youth system, did you ever believe you would reach the pinnacle in Australian football coaching?

MARK RUDAN

When I first started playing, coaching was the furthest thing from my mind and I just wanted to be the best player I could be.

I wasn’t blessed with exceptional talent but I possessed an inner determination, resilience and a motivation to get the best out of myself which are qualities often more important than star quality.

Today, I regularly see young talented players who have the skills set but don’t have the necessary qualities to fight for success.

My identification with coaching really developed when I was in Germany at Allemania Aachen with Jorg Berger, my second coach at the club.

His understanding of the game and ability to adjust tactics and formation during a game and his man management skills, separated him from any other coach I’d known.

He was the first person who really made me think coaching could be an option after my playing days were over.

 

ROGER SLEEMAN

How much did Les Scheinflug, coach of the Young Socceroos, influence your philosophy of football at the 1995 finals?

MARK RUDAN

Les was good because he liked me and that does help when the player has the confidence of his coach.

Les made me vice captain to Mark Viduka which was a great honor.

Also, he played with a back three which I utilise as a coach today.

 

ROGER SLEEMAN

Who was the major influence in your playing career and early development?

MARK RUDAN

Yaager and Sullivan encouraged me to have the belief I could go so far in the game but you needed to follow certain steps to get there.

After the 1997 World Cup loss to Iran in Melbourne, I went up to my colleagues from the AIS like Muscat, Horvat, Viduka and Moore who inspired me.

At the AIS, Ron Smith and Steve O’Connor converted me from midfield to central defence and playing next to Craig Moore was a great plus because he coached me in that position.

 

ROGER SLEEMAN

What did you learn playing in Japan at Avispa Fukuoka during the 2008 season ,and can you relate your experiences?

MARK RUDAN

I was 32 years of age when Pierre Littbarski took me there after I was coming out of contract with Sydney FC. Fortunately, John Kosmina was prepared to let me go because there wasn’t a long term future at the club for me.

Japan showed me what true professionalism was. If they could train six times a day they would because you had to drag them off the pitch.

I wished I’d gone there when I was younger because it would’ve developed me as a footballer.

Their youth system intrigued me and in my first training session in Japan, their first touch, positional play and passing ability were incredible

I watched their Youth Academy players who played 50-60 games from 13’s up, while training every day.

We talk about overkill and overtraining here but you only have to go there to see how they’ve achieved so much which changed my ideas on the youth system as it should be presented in Australia.

Foe every youth player who we rate in Australia, there are a thousand like them in Japan.

 

Western United’s Mark Rudan exclusive with Soccerscene

 

ROGER SLEEMAN

How important was your coaching experience at Sydney United?

MARK RUDAN

Sydney United is a high pressure club and I believed if I could cut my teeth for 3-5 years, it would be ideal for my coaching preparation.

I wasn’t a player who had a big name and could get a job easily so I had to do it the hard way with the necessary work input to provide longevity.

The year before , the club avoided relegation by one point so I was able to change the whole structure of the club , including the youth team setup.

In the first year we became champions of the NPL and we won the Australian Championship.

All in all we won two Australian Championships, two Premierships and the Waratah Cup in the five years I was at the club.

It was a great grounding before I received the offer from Wellington which helped me not to be overawed and end up on the scrapheap in the first year.

 

ROGER SLEEMAN

Your efforts at Wellington Phoenix were remarkable?

Can you explain how you did it?

MARK RUDAN

At the moment I walked into the club , I could see both players and staff were down.

I spoke to each board member, including chairman Rob Morrison and asked, do you think we can win a trophy?

There wasn’t much belief but I was optimistic and I wanted to rebuild just as I’d done at Sydney United.

It was a matter of planning to change the objectives and culture of the football club.

 

ROGER SLEEMAN

Roy Krishna was a large part of your success at Wellington.

How did you extract maximum value from him?

MARK RUDAN

I knew Roy had natural pace and he could finish.

I got to know him well and particularly his background so I was able to gain his respect and assist in his self motivation.

I changed his role to more of a central striker rather than a winger.

I told him before the season started he would be the leading striker in the A-League but he didn’t believe it.

We worked hard every day on his positioning, different runs and their timing and his finishing.

The fact he won the A-League Player of the Year and the Golden Boot in 2018/19, followed by Diamanti winning the player of the year in the recently concluded season were proud moments for me.

 

ROGER SLEEMAN

Could you tell us about Diamanti?

MARK RUDAN

As a coach, I needed to get the best out of him.

Initially, he called me Mr. as all the Italian players do.

However, I had to earn his respect and looking at his record, it was no different when I brought Steve Taylor to Wellington who was managed by some great people like Sir Bobby Robson.

Dimanti fitted into the culture of the club but I needed to fit him into the team pattern which he proved many times over.

 

ROGER SLEEMAN

A feature of your season at Western United was your ability to blend experience with youth, e.g. Diamanti, Berisha, Durante, Calvert and Paine with Perias, Dillon,Skotidis and Cavallo.

It was a brave step so were you confident of achieving success?

MARK RUDAN

Long days up to twelve hours in establishing the new player structure was the norm but as a coach it’s my job to get the best out of all players and develop their full potential for the team

Risdon had been out in the cold for a few seasons but came back to his best and returned to the Socceroo squad.

Also Paine was challenged and had his best year yet and Burgess came out of his shell and really hit his straps.

 

ROGER SLEEMAN

Besart Berisha was a revelation during the season.

How did you achieve that outcome?

MARK RUDAN

We knew he hadn’t played much football in the last twelve months after Victory let him go.

One conversation with him in Germany convinced me I wanted him for the new club because he revealed the mentality I required for the team to succeed.

Berisha is a great professional who doesn’t like being taken off and he gave me the glare when he was replaced in one match. I spoke to him about the importance of working together which really resonated with him.

He has that winning mentality and was so important in the winning streak of seven wins in eight games post COVID-19.

Young players looked up to him because in every moment he demonstrated his quest to improve performance, despite his age.

 

ROGER SLEEMAN

That magnificent goal setup by Dylan Pierias for Steve Lustica against Sydney FC in the second last round of normal competition was a spellbinder.

Why didn’t Pierias get more game time during the season?

MARK RUDAN

Pierias was previously an out and out winger so we had to improve his aerobic capacity for the wingback position. There’s no doubting his electrifying pace as he cruised past King and Tzavellas to design that goal against Sydney F.C.

This took all year to develop because he had to be trained in the wing back position and we had to improve his defensive qualities.

These young players are used to playing a 4-3-3 formation and find it hard to adjust to a 3-5-2 system.

4-3-3 only allows you to play with one striker and this is the reason we’re not producing any good strikers at the moment.

 

ROGER SLEEMAN

What is the future of Western United?

MARK RUDAN

It will be the biggest club in Australia within 5 years because its located in the largest growth corridor in the country and some of the best people in Australian football are on the Board and employed in the Executive.

I have a three year deal and I’d certainly like to be there for the opening game of the new stadium which is two to three years off.

FA reveal 2021 Domestic Match Calendar

The FFA and PFA have today come to terms on a revised Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) for Socceroos and Matildas players.

Football Australia have released their 2021 Australian Football Domestic Match Calendar (DMC).

The key features of the 2021 Australian Football DMC include registration periods for Australia’s professional competitions, national team activity windows, A-League and W-League competition windows, final round match dates for the FFA Cup, as well as a standalone spot for the Festival of Football Week, which is set to be introduced in connection with the 2021 FFA Cup Final.

FA CEO James Johnson believes 2021 will be a year of transition towards a completely unified approach for Australian football.

“Flowing on from the unbundling of the Professional Leagues from Football Australia, an important regulatory function for Football Australia as the game’s Governing Body is to set the Domestic Match Calendar in order to lead the realignment of Australia’s football competitions and connect the football pyramid both domestically and globally,” Johnson said.

“The release of the 2021 DMC to football stakeholders, and to the public, is an important step in that process, and we expect to achieve even greater alignment in 2022 as COVID-19 eases and we apply key learnings and insights from 2021.

“Australia’s Domestic Match Calendar will play a vital role in Football Australia’s proposed new and modern transfer system by articulating domestic Transfer Windows which will provide opportunities to progressive clubs at all levels of the sport to conduct player transfer business and generate new revenue streams which can be deployed into the ongoing training and development of players, and the clubs themselves.

“The Domestic Match Calendar will also be fundamental to bringing to life numerous measures proposed in the XI Principles, which in turn supports our bold and exciting new strategic direction for Australian football. The DMC will aid the optimisation of competitions across all levels of the game, help us to reimagine the player pathway, help to increase match minutes for players both in club football and with our national teams, and support football as a sport which is played all year round,” he said.

The 2021 Australian Football Domestic Match Calendar can be viewed here.

Australian Professional Leagues welcome two new executives

The Australian Professional Leagues (APL) have announced Ant Hearne and Michael Tange as their two new executives.

The Australian Professional Leagues (APL) have announced Ant Hearne and Michael Tange as their two new executives.

Ant Hearne joins as Chief Commercial Officer (CCO) of APL, to set up and lead all commercial activities – involving user experience, marketing, content, sponsorships, rights negotiations and other revenue opportunities. He comes across from Foxtel’s streaming division, Streamotion, as CCO of Kayo, BINGE, WatchAFL and WatchNRL which has seen significant growth in recent years. His career in Australia, Asia and the US focuses on senior marketing and commercial roles in telco, digital media, marketing tech and sports entertainment.

“Football represents the biggest growth opportunity in Australian sport – we’ve got twice as many participants as any other game in this country, we’re leaders in women’s sport (with all eyes on the game in the lead up to the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup), and key to our future growth is the fact that we have the youngest and most diverse fans of any sport,” Hearne said.

“It’s now time to deliver commercial outcomes that will fuel the sustainable growth of the game. Our teams are playing exciting, fast-paced, uncompromising football in front of the most passionate fans and it’s the APL’s mission is to take that direct-to-consumer in order to unlock the power of the fan and ultimately grow the whole game. It’s going to be an exciting ride.”

Michael Tange joins as Strategy and Digital Director, following 15 years working in global roles with sports, data and technology companies. He will lead the strategy, digital development and media rights for APL. He arrives from Nielsen Sports in New York where he spent a decade working on commercial strategy, broadcast, digital and fan development with leading sporting codes such as the NBA, NFL, MLB, PGA TOUR and Major League Soccer.

APL Commissioner Greg O’Rourke continues to lead the operational side of the business in conjunction with Deputy Commissioner Tracey Scott. She joins APL after six years with Football Australia in various leadership roles, most recently as General Manager (GM) of Leagues. She is also an Appointed Member of FIFA’s Professional Women’s Football taskforce.

Since the unbundling of the four professional leagues from Football Australia on December 31, these are the first official APL appointments.

“With full ownership of the four leagues, we have an ambitious vision for the growth of the game at every level,” Chair of APL Paul Lederer said.

“The new, expanded executive team have been tasked with unleashing the APL’s commercial and entrepreneurial capabilities, and we now have a structure that will enable them to deliver the right outcomes for all of Australian football.”

Glenn Fontana – the Lord Mayor of Wollongong Football

It was Jim Fraser, the former heroic Socceroo goalkeeper and current head of Western Sydney Wanderer’s youth goalkeeping program, who some years ago recognised Glenn Fontana’s contribution to football in the Illawarra region by naming him the Lord Mayor of Wollongong.

In his many years as a senior player, senior and youth coach, Fontana has been held in high esteem by generations of former senior and youth players which has elevated him to household name status in the region.

Fontana commenced his long journey in football as a professional with Balgownie in NSW Federation 2 in the 1974 season, graduating to the NSL with Wollongong City where he remained for five seasons , making ninety appearances and scoring over twenty goals. He has been ever present in coaching roles to this day since he retired from playing.

Unlike most Australian coaches who confine their education to home, Fontana had a long term association with Liverpool and Fulham for whom he was Chief Talent Scout for a combined period of seventeen years.

He has crossed paths with many legendary football figures in his ventures overseas but never believed he would meet Wiel Coerver at a Liverpool training session.

At one stage he had two hundred players at his Coerver coaching school in Wollongong.

In this interview with Roger Sleeman, Glenn Fontana recalls his early memories of football on the South Coast, the worship of Jim Kelly’s Gang , Adrian Alston, Peter Wilson and Max Tolson, his experiences as a senior player, adventures in Europe and his love affair with the world game.

ROGER SLEEMAN

What are your memories of South Coast football in your early days, and who were the greatest coaches, influences and idols?

GLENN FONTANA

I played my junior football from u/6’s with Balgownie and always had an ambition to play first grade which transpired when George Ramage, the legendary Balgownie and South Coast keeper, selected me in a match against Marconi as a striker in 1974 at the tender age of eighteen

I was fortunately influenced by the great South United flanker, Denis Paterson, who I also played with in the Illawarra League when Balgownie became defunct.

In 1980, I signed for Wollongong United in the NSW State League and was coached by the inimitable Mike Johnson.

ROGER SLEEMAN

When Jim Kelly, the former Blackpool and England B player, who was a team-mate of Sir Stanley Mathews came to Australia in the early 1960’s to eventually become captain coach of South Coast United, football boomed in the Illawarra?

What are your recollections of those times?

GLENN FONTANA

It was a famous era in the region when the Kelly Gang would play, particularly after that inspiring win against Apia in the 1963 grand final at the Sydney Sports Ground which drew a record Australian club crowd of 30,158.

It was the day local South Coast products like Max Tolson, Denis Paterson, Peter Beattie and Casey de Bruin came of age.

All youngsters on the Coast aspired to play for the Kelly Gang and Max Tolson was a major idol for me as he personified skill, tenacity and sometimes outright brilliance.

When Peter Wilson and Adrian Alston came to Australia, I witnessed two magnificent footballers who have created such a legacy for Australian football.

Significantly, at the time football was in the psyche as no other sports mattered.

I still remember at the age of six taking the train to Sydney with my grandmother to see the great Ron Lord play in goals for Prague.

I always supported United but always took notice of visiting players like Ray Baartz, John Giacometti, Alan Marnoch, John Watkiss and Mike Denton to name a few.

ROGER SLEEMAN

In the NSL you played ninety games and scored more than twenty goals as a target man for Wollongong City.

Did you like doing all the hard work which was required as a central striker and what were your main attributes?

GLENN FONTANA

I originally started my career as a winger because I had genuine pace but I was used as the wide player in a 4-3-3 structure . My first coach at Wollongong City, Ken Morton brought me in to replace the Kiwi striker, Brian Turner, who didn’t fit the bill in the centre of the attack.

I was given my chance in 1981 and scored in my debut game against Newcastle who that day boasted the Leeds United and England defender , Paul Reaney as a guest player.

I was good in the air and had a useful first touch but I was never a dribbler.

I was mainly there to finish or create chances for others.

ROGER SLEEMAN

You never played representative football for NSW or Australia?

What was that next step to play at those levels?

GLENN FONTANA

My first touch was adequate and I was good at laying the ball off to team-mates but I only worked on first touch in senior football, not at youth level.

I was sadly lacking in this area and was a late developer and learner.

Technique should be mastered between 10-15 years of age and I was working at striking a ball at 22-23 with Brian Turner, Max Tolson and Adrian Alston.

They made be a better player which made up for the lack of instruction I received as a youth player.

Glenn scoring for Wollongong City in last match of 1982 season against Brisbane City.

ROGER SLEEMAN

What are your lasting memories of the NSL?

GLENN FONTANA

Those five seasons were all memorable as my dream to play senior football at the highest level in the country was realised.

However, the highlight was the third place finish in the 1982 season.

In the final we played St George but were defeated by two goals from the England striker, Ted McDougall .

I was denied a headed goal by former Socceroo custodian, Terry Greedy, who somehow spread himself low into the extreme left hand corner of his goal to parry the ball beyond the goal-line.

ROGER SLEEMAN

What prompted your interest to enter the coaching ranks after your playing career ended?

GLENN FONTANA

I was always a keen student of the game and was fortunate to coach youth at Wollongong Wolves and Fairymeadow.

I did my apprenticeship as assistant coach to John Fleming and Dave Ratcliffe in senior football at the Wolves and went out on my own as a senior coach at Mount Pritchard in 1989.

ROGER SLEEMAN

What was your football philosophy?

GLENN FONTANA

I emphasized playing out from the back in a passing game with a predominant skill and attacking style.

Also, I was determined to give youth a chance to play at the highest level.

When I was assistant coach at the Wolves in the State League, I introduced Matt Horsley and Sasha Dimoski to the youth team and at Wollongong United , Scott Chipperfield, Mile Sterjovski and Richard Lloyd .

ROGER SLEEMAN

Matt Horsley was one of the best products on the South Coast?

Why was he different to other wide players?

GLENN FONTANA

I watched him in a State League match and like Rhyan Grant and Brett Emerton, he had boundless energy and an unique ability to run at players and cruise past them.

I selected him for the Wolves youth team and by the end of the year , Dave Ratcliffe put him into the first team and the rest is history.

I’ve always believed we should be encouraging youth to progress to elite level and Horsley was a perfect example.

ROGER SLEEMAN

You were involved with Coerver training during it’s infancy in Australia and you were also privileged to meet Wiel Coerver in England.

Tell us more.

GLENN FONTANA

Football NSW conducted some demonstrations in 2000 and in the same year Charlie Cooke, the former Scotland and Chelsea wizard, came to Australia with Alf Galustian ,the Chelsea youth coach , to demonstrate how Coerver could be implemented into normal training.

Charlie Cooke was amazing and he was instrumental in influencing me to use Coerver in my own coaching from that day on.

I encouraged young players to use it in dribbling e.g. the Cruyff turn , the Beckenbauer inside outside cut and the Rivelino method, especially in small sided games.

Terry Antonis, David Carney and Brett Holman were among the best exponents of Coerver in the NSW state teams I coached .

I met Wiel Coerver by chance when I was watching a training session at Anfield in 2008.

I saw this fellow on the sideline and introduced myself to him and I was in seventh heaven when he told me who he was.

I told him I used his method with my coaching in Australia and we had a great discussion about the finer points of the game.

Glenn playing against Melita Eagles in NSL 1984.

ROGER SLEEMAN

You were Liverpool’s chief scout for Australia between 2000-2010

How did that transpire and can you relate your experiences?

GLENN FONTANA

In 2000 when I was the coach of the NSW u/15’s at the national titles, I met Trevor Gould(son of the legendary Coventry striker, Bobby Gould) who was the Academy Manager at Coventry City.

He invited me England to look at the club setup because he wanted me to represent Coventry and when I went there I was also approached by Sam Allardyce at Bolton. The very next day I was watching Liverpool at Anfield with my old team -mate from the Wolves, Jeff Ainsworth ,and he introduced me to Sammy Lee.who offered me the opportunity to join Liverpool’s scouting network and I agreed.

In that time period, I would spend 3-4 weeks a year at Anfield and meet with Steve Heighway, the Academy Manager, and he made it quite clear to only send the best players to him.

At the time, Nick Rizzo and Robbie Fowler were playing and I also became friendly with U.S. goalkeeper, Brad Friedl .

I was responsible for bringing Dean Bouzanis to the club and it was Rafa Benitez who rated him the best goalkeeper in the world for his age at the time.

After Heighway left, Malcolm Elias took over but he was sacked and went to Fulham.

ROGER SLEEMAN

You were Fulham Chief Scout for Australia from 2011-2017.

Describe your experience at Fulham.

GLENN FONTANA

Malcolm Elias enlisted my services and he had a very strong background in discovering talent like Gareth Bale and Theo Walcott.

I took Corey Gameiro over and he stayed for two seasons without making any first team appearances.

Malcolm came to Australia and was very impressed with Bailey Wright playing for Victoria in the state titles.

Unfortunately, Malcolm missed out when Wright signed for Bristol City.

Alex Gersbach was also considered but his commitments with the Olyroos and the Socceroos were always a hinderance.

When Fulham were relegated they dropped all their scouts so at the moment I have no attachment to the club.

However, if they remain in the Premier League , I will probably get work again.

ROGER SLEEMAN

What role are you performing at the moment?

GLENN FONTANA

I’m employed by Football South Coast to run the SAP program for the South Coast Flames which I do three days a week and I play a very keen interest in A-League and NPL football.

I’m often asked to write reports on games for local coaches.

The game runs in my veins and I’ve been extremely fortunate to experience such wonderful times in football in Australia and Europe and had the pleasure of attending three World Cups.

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