Back to the future for A-League coaches

Ante Milicic will coach Macarthur FC in their inaugural season in the A-League.
Ante Milicic will coach Macarthur FC in their inaugural season in the A-League.

Their baggy jerseys tucked into baggier shorts may have been swapped for suits and tracksuits but for the A-League's coaching contingent, the passion is as strong as ever.

The new season will feature at least nine coaches - Ante Milicic, Carl Veart, Grant Brebner, Mark Rudan, Patrick Kisnorbo, Richard Garcia, Steve Corica, Ufuk Talay and Warren Moon - who played in the A-League.

Of those, six featured in the inaugural season, including new Macarthur FC coach Milicic, who scored the A-League's first hat-trick when suiting up for Newcastle in 2005.

Fifteen years on, Milicic will coach a team featuring captain Mark Milligan - who was a Sydney FC youngster in 2005-06 - alongside players who weren't even at primary school when their now-captain won that season's grand final.

"I played for Newcastle Jets in the first season of the A-League and now I've come full circle and now I'm coaching in the league," Milicic told AAP.

"I haven't looked too much into that.

"It's nice that there's a lot of coaches now that have played in the A-League that are now also giving back and they're in the league."

Kisnorbo, one of this season's youngest mentors, joined the A-League at a later date - but it's still shaped his journey from player to coach.

After a long career in England, the former Socceroos defender joined Melbourne City in 2013, playing three seasons before moving into coaching at youth, then W-League, then A-League level.

"Through my football career, I always wanted to be a coach, in what capacity that was I didn't know then," Kisnorbo told AAP.

"It's great, we're in a league (where) it's great to have a lot of Australian coaches to develop.

"You see the pathway of obviously (Tony) Popovic and Musky (Kevin Muscat) and you want to be part of that.

"Now I'm probably one of the youngest in the league at the moment, so for us it's a learning curve to hopefully get Australian coaches on the map, as you were as players.

"For me it's fantastic to have coaches that you used to play with or against in the A-League - to hopefully one day develop Aussie coaches to go abroad and to be the best that they can."

The transition from player to coach is far from a new concept in the A-League - previously the likes of Muscat, Popovic and John Aloisi have made that jump with varying levels of success.

But the combination of the COVID-19 pandemic and the fluctuating fortunes of various clubs have opened the door for more former A-League players to step up with Kisnorbo, Brebner, Veart, Moon and Garcia joining Corica in coaching the clubs they once played for.

While there are big learning curves ahead both Kisnorbo and Milicic believe they can draw upon their own experiences to help develop and drive Australia's talent.

"Sometimes you get it right and sometimes you don't," Kisnorbo said.

"But through your experiences, you think that you can help the playing group.

"That just comes with age and obviously playing in this league."

The majority of the A-League's championship-winning coaches are Australians and there's every reason to believe that will be the case for the fifth consecutive season.

"I've always looked at coaching, particularly for us Australians, we're more than capable of doing a good job," Milicic said.

"The understanding that we have with the Australian players, particularly in bringing them through and giving them a chance and also knowing what's out there also plays a part in it all together. It's fantastic and it means a lot.

"... These are coaches that have played for the clubs now that are getting an opportunity, so then they know what that club's about.

"It makes a lot of sense with the way a lot of clubs have gone and I think it's great that a lot of young Australian coaches are getting their chance.

"Has that had a bit to do with the whole COVID situation or not? I'm not sure ... it's great for all us coaches that are now given an opportunity and now hopefully that's gonna add something exciting to the league."

Australian Associated Press