fbpx

Vaughan Coveny: How the NSL bred elite players, coaches, and administrators

Recently, George Vasilopoulos and Peter Abraam spoke with Soccerscene to explore how the NSL’s community-driven model became a production-line for elite sporting administrators and commercially thriving clubs.

With the prospect of a future National Second Division gaining traction, the revival of the community model in Australia’s topflight may once again become a reality.

To continue the conversation, South Melbourne legend Vaughan Coveny joined the returning Vasilopoulos to share his experiences from a player’s perspective and provide his insights into the club’s culture of success, both on and off the park.

“I was playing at Wollongong and Frank Arok was manager at the time. South Melbourne was one of the biggest clubs in the country at the time and everybody wanted to go there. I was honoured to get the call,” Coveny recalls.

“What made the club so successful was the high expectations and standards set by everybody. It wasn’t just one factor or one superstar player, but the whole club. That drive for success and high level of standards filters down. It’s how these big clubs create that aura about them.”

The Kiwi would go on to make almost 300 senior appearances for South Melbourne over three stints, scoring more than 100 goals.

“Initially, Frank (Arok) was there with Ange (Postecoglou) as his assistant. We had a young squad. Frank was a bit older and experienced, he had coached Australia and just oozed enthusiasm and love for the game which rubbed off on the players,” Coveny said.

The forward scored more than 100 goals for South Melbourne FC.

“He got a lot out of that younger group and was responsible for developing a lot of those players to eventually play for the Socceroos.”

Coveny himself would go onto become the record goal scorer for the New Zealand national team, while many others forged successful careers domestically and abroad.

Although Arok inspired and nurtured the young playing group, he departed in 1996, leading to the appointment of his assistant – at the time untried head coach, Ange Postecoglou.

For George Vasilopoulos, Former South Melbourne FC President (1989-2002), there was plenty of pressure to make the correct decision but ultimately, he decided the best approach was to promote from within rather than seek an external candidate.

“It was risky, as he was seen as a very young man for the job. There was a lot of resistance from board level but at the time I was happy to take the risk given his character and knowledge,” Vasilopoulos said.

“I remember that we lost a number of games to start the season and people were convinced it was the wrong choice. Many people wanted to sack him, but I was there in 1979 when the club finished last and the reason for that is that we sacked three coaches. I learned a lot of lessons from that period, good and bad. I knew we needed to stick by him.”

“In those days I would attend every training session and spend every weekend with the players, travelling to games and in the dressing rooms. I had an extremely close relationship with the group. They would tell me that he was the right man for the job, and it was them, not the coach causing the poor results.”

Coveny experienced this period first-hand and was part of the squad that ultimately went onto achieve great success under Ange Postecoglou.

After a disappointing 1996 season where South finished 8th, the club would make a preliminary final before winning back-to-back championships in 1998 and 1999.

“When Ange took over, he brought his own style. A different style and philosophy to Frank. He had a great team to work with and because he (Postecoglou) was a previous player, he knew exactly what it meant to win championships,” Coveny said.

The club’s talented group drove the team’s on-field success and this further built the strong relationship the players and coaches shared with the fans.

Like many other football clubs throughout Australia, South Melbourne’s fanbase was, and continues to be, entrenched in the city’s migrant community.

This is something Vasilopoulos believes contributed to the tightknit atmosphere which promoted inclusion and ultimately led to a large supporter base made up of people willing to invest time and money back into the club.

“Football promotes diversity. When I started following the club in the 1960s it was vital for bringing people together. A lot of people who arrived in Australia at the time not knowing the language or customs had a common interest to focus on,” Vasilopoulos recalled fondly.

“This wasn’t just for Greek people but for all of the people in the area who supported the club. It was a place for people to get away from politics and work and come together for the love of football.”

For the players, this commercial success during the 1990s led to many benefits. From elite training facilities to world class infrastructure, the lucrative sponsorship dollars were heavily reinvested into the club and its personnel.

Coveny remains New Zealand’s record goal scorer.

“I played my first game when Bob Jane Stadium opened. I remember we lost against West Adelaide, but there were 16,000 people at the ground.”

“That’s why the players want to go to the best clubs. We had great fans, but also the best facilities and the best of everything. As a player, it encourages you to develop and excel.”

“Club sponsors are so valuable to clubs. At the time, our sponsors and supporters were very generous. If players or staff were producing on the field, we got the best of everything. This translated to contract negotiations, where players at most of the clubs were well looked after. Without the sponsors and the fans, that revenue simply wouldn’t have been there,” Coveny said.

The success of the club during this period, commercially and on-field, was founded on a community model where passionate fans and administrators contributed their time and money. Although this led to the club becoming a powerhouse of Australian sport during the 1990s and early 2000s, the sporting landscape has largely changed. Today, many argue whether this will governance style would translate to the modern era where privatisation rules and clubs rely on the investment and influence of their owners.

Coveny, who now works as Head of Football at Essendon Royals, is hopeful but somewhat pessimistic that at the community-driven model can translate to today’s elite sporting environment.

“I think it’s a lot harder these days. It could work but now you need the resources and facilities. In football, we always struggle for grounds and funding and often have to share facilities with other sports,” he said.

“It may be achievable, but it would need a lot of work and people and clubs would have to work extremely hard to make it happen.”

W-League big winners in new CBA, as greater contract freedom for A-League clubs beckons

A new collective bargaining agreement has been struck between Professional Football Australia and the Australian Professional Leagues.

Equity in high-performance standards in the A-League and W-League, a 32% increase in the W-League salary cap floor and an increase in the A-League salary cap floor are the highlights of the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) struck between Professional Footballers Australia (PFA) and the Australian Professional Leagues (APL).

The new five-year deal was described as “ground-breaking” by a joint statement between the two bodies, in an announcement that highlights the newfound confidence in the economic environment for professional football in Australia.

Much of that confidence can be linked to the new five-year broadcast agreement with ViacomCBS and Network 10 and it is no surprise that this new CBA has been deliberately linked in length to the broadcast deal.

PFA Co-Chief Executive Kathryn Gill explained that being able to achieve this agreement was a huge milestone for the professional game in Australia, after such a long period of uncertainty in recent years due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the end of the previous broadcasting deal with Fox Sports.

“The players’ vision for the negotiations was economic security and stability for the clubs, the leagues and the players. This agreement is a foundational step towards this objective and our leagues will be stronger as a result,” she said via the joint statement.

“It has been an incredibly challenging time for our game; however, we believe the CBA will provide a platform for our leagues to be re-launched and for a genuine partnership between the clubs and the players to be forged.

“I would like to acknowledge the work of Greg O’Rourke, Danny Townsend, Tracey Scott, Chris Pehlivanis and John Tsatsimas for their efforts and commitment during the negotiations and especially the players who participated so actively throughout.”

PFA President Alex Wilkinson noted the immense sacrifice made by many players to usher the game through the COVID-19 pandemic, which he says helped pave the way for this agreement.

“This generation of players, club owners and staff have been asked to make immense sacrifices to preserve our sport during unprecedented times,” he said.

“As a result of these sacrifices we have been able to take an important step forward and provide greater certainty for the clubs and players and make important progress in areas such as our high-performance environment, player welfare whilst further embedding our commitment to gender equity.”

Under the new CBA, genuine equity in high-performance standards in the A-League and W-League have been entrenched in order to create a “world-class workplace” for all of the country’s footballers.

This CBA will be the first to deliver common standards across higher performance and medical departments across both the W-League and the A-League.

Increases to minimum and maximum player payments are also factored in during the course of the five-year CBA with a particular focus on an increase to the W-League salary floor, providing another massive boost on the back of the recently announced expansion of the competition to also include Central Coast Mariners, Wellington Phoenix and Western United.

There will also be a reformed contracting model that allows for greater capacity in squad investment for clubs, with an allowance for up to two “Designated Player” spots, which will allow clubs to invest between $300,000 and $600,000 in players whose salaries will be excluded from the A-League salary cap.

These “Designated Players” will be in addition to the current exemptions, such as “Marquee Players”.

Furthermore, there will also be greater capacity for clubs to contract youth players with an increase in the cap on scholarship players.

The CBA also provides for guaranteed funding for player welfare and development programs, as well as greater support for the PFA Past Players Program.

APL Managing Director Danny Townsend said the deal was proof that the APL was living up to its promise of greater investment since taking control of Australia’s professional leagues.

“When APL took control of the leagues, we promised it would herald a new era of investment and this agreement shows the progress that has already been made,” he said in a statement.

“This is a clear example of what can be achieved when we work together with a common vision to realise the potential of Australian football.”

APL Leagues Commissioner Greg O’Rourke added the investments would help clubs deliver a much-improved on-field product.

“Players are partners with us in the game and central to its growth. Having all of our partners on-board with the re-imagined future of the game is vital, and this agreement marks an important milestone in our new relationship,” he said.

“There will be immediate improvements across the men’s and women’s leagues, most notably for women’s football, all of which will flow through into improved experiences for players, and ultimately into growing and improving our game.”

Carlos Salvachúa: “Playing without promotion and relegation is a big problem”

Carlos Salvachúa was Victory assistant coach under Kevin Muscat, before taking over as caretaker manager. He has coached professionally in Spain and Belgium, including six years at the Real Madrid academy, overseeing the development of the club’s rising stars.

He spoke to Soccerscene from Spain about his impressions of the A-League, where it could be improved, and how Australian youth need to play more football to reach their potential.

What were your first impressions of the A-League?

Salvachúa: Sometimes the big issue is knowing if it’s a professional league or not – and definitely the A-League was professional. I’m talking about games, organisation, talking about flights or hotels, and training. I was lucky to arrive to Melbourne Victory – one of the biggest clubs there is – and everything in the club was like in Europe and in Spain. Good facilities, good organisation, and a lots of staff in the office. For me the first impression was really professional.

What was the level of professionalism like compared to other leagues you have coached in?

Salvachúa: Belgium is a hard competition. I’m talking about the games, not about organisation – it’s similar to the A-League or in Spain in the La Liga. The competition is tough in Belgium if we compare the level of the players, the games and the competition.

After leaving Melbourne Victory, Salvachúa was Muscat’s assistant coach at Sint-Truidense V.V. in Belgium.

What were the biggest challenges you faced while coaching in Australia?

Salvachúa: One of the biggest for me was the distance to play a game. It was funny because here with Atlético versus Real Madrid they travel 15 minutes to go to sleep at home, and for Victory we spend three days away to play a game, for me this was really hard. In the Champions League we spent five days away to play a game in China or in Japan. For me and and European players as well this was hard, because it was not easy. I remember the long pre-season because the schedule of FFA Cup was really hard for us. We trained two to three months before the first game in the A-League, just to play one round in the FFA Cup.

How do you think the league could be improved?

Salvachúa: For me, playing without promotion and relegation, is a problem, a big one in my opinion for the league. You need to improve the league from the basement – you cannot start the building of the house from the roof, you must start building the house from the ground up. I’m talking about the NPL. They are tough competitions, and you need to give promotion to the A-League, and I think that the competition will be better with this system like in Europe. I think a competition without promotion and relegation is only working with the MLS in USA. In Australia I think that it would be great to create another kind of competition to improve the league.

Another thing for me that is one of the biggest issues was that sometimes the players were receptive – they are professionals about training and have a good attitude to learn, but for me as a coach sometimes the players don’t know how important it is to win – compared to a draw or a loss. Without promotion and relegation, in some games as a coach, in the second half the players don’t understand how important it is to get a win over one point. I think that is probably one of the solutions to change the model of the competition.

How would you rate the level of young talent being developed in Australia?

Salvachúa: Like in other countries, you have good players with talent at 14, 15, and 16 years of age, but in my opinion they need more games. Some players arrive to A-League at 19 years old – playing 18 to 25 games – and it’s not easiest time for the coaches to start these young players in the first 11. If they are not playing every Sunday, they need another tough competition. You need competitive games with a second team like here in Spain or with the under 18s or under 19s – it depends. I think that they need more games here. A 14 or 15 year old kid normally finishes the competition in Spain with 45 official games. 45 games is more than the professionals in the A-League. I think one of the big issues is they do not have enough games and training sessions to develop the players. But the talent is there like in other countries.

© 2021 Soccerscene Industry News. All Rights reserved. Reproduction is prohibited.

Most Popular Topics

Editor Picks