Feature

Hopeful start but Okon and Mariners soon grew apart

As a rule, Australian coaches don't quit their A-League jobs. Unless they've got an overseas offer or the national job comes up, they pretty much never leave.

Paul Okon

Former Central Coast Mariners coach Paul Okon Source: Getty Images

The main reason is because there's not enough jobs to go round. Without a second division, and slim prospects abroad, you'd have to be extremely unhappy to walk out. 

Which leads us to the surprising news about Paul Okon departing Central Coast.

Talk about Okon leaving has been circling in the industry for some time – much of it with a rumoured link to Sydney FC – but you still don't expect to see a coach press the exit button without a firm destination. 

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Put simply, there seemed to be a mismatching of ambition. Okon clearly has big dreams; the Mariners’ management also does, but theirs might be shaded by a different vision of how it will happen. 

The rumoured fallout over the "conditions" concerning next season’s contract needs framing against this bigger picture. In any event, you need total alignment to make any progress. 

Okon was, quite visibly, frustrated. He wanted to challenge and challenge hard. He's a born winner. But the Mariners' management are privately arguing that they provided ample funds – 14 new players were brought in this season – and the results didn't stack up. 

Did Okon get all the players he wanted? Or was he left with the ones passed over by others? It depends on your point of view.

The truth, as always, probably lies somewhere in between, and each will have their own version of the stories.

At least the two parties were prepared to offer amicable statements about each other in the exit press release. It doesn't always work out like that. 

If there is a silver lining to all this, it’s that Okon’s reputation has not been hugely sullied by his first foray into management. Clearly, he has some managerial talent.
He has shown an unwavering loyalty for possession-based football, which reflects the way he himself played the game. No team – not even Sydney FC – had greater possession statistics this season. 

Perhaps with better players, and some more knowledge on how to execute this high-end philosophy, Okon might reach the level he seeks.

The Mariners' gig is a really tough one for an inexperienced manager: just ask Phil Moss and Tony Walmsley. 

If I was him, I'd jump on the first plane to Yokohama to learn everything I could from Ange Postecoglou.

I'd also pick Graham Arnold's brain (as soon as he finishes with Sydney) relentlessly about how he overcame his initial hurdles as a manager. Now there's a priceless opportunity for improvement. 

As for the Mariners, it's a curly one. They are determined to run the club on as minimal spend as possible, which is understandable. 

But that will also prohibit them from attracting elite players and coaches.

As such, they'll have to be incredibly smart in their next moves. That's now three coaches who haven’t worked out as hoped.

It now makes far more sense for them to try with an experienced pair of hands that knows success.

A bid for Aurelio Vidmar or Mike Mulvey, two proven winners at this level, would at least demonstrate ambition.

They're both free agents and would relish the chance to follow Ernie Merrick's lead. 



The next best options would have to be two ex-Mariners.

Tony Vidmar hasn't coached in the A-League, but has led the Joeys and is now the assistant coach at Melbourne City.

Likewise, John Hutchinson has just taken on the Seattle Sounders' second-tier job in the United Soccer League. 

However, given both are future A-League coaches, there's no rush for either.

And having just started new, stable jobs, they'll probably wait a little longer before diving back in. 

Either way, with yet another year having slipped by with the Mariners not in finals contention, it's time they began to get back in the game. 


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4 min read
Published 20 March 2018 at 7:40pm
By Sebastian Hassett