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Heart-stopper: Was John Aloisi the right call?

by John Davidson on Feb 26, 2013

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The Melbourne Heart are floundering and the decision to appoint John Alosis as head coach might have come too soon for the former Socceroo, John Davidson writes.

One season of coaching in the National Youth League (NYL) hardly seems like enough experience to take over a top coaching job in the A-League. John Aloisi had a fantastic player career, both in Europe and for the national team. He was the first Aussie to play in the Italian, English and Spanish top flight, and it was his famous penalty that sent the Socceroos to their first World Cup in 32 years. But as the old adage goes, great players don’t always make great coaches.

Aloisi joined the Heart in 2010 for his final season as a professional. He retired on February 12, 2011, and took over the club’s NYL team for the 2011-2012 season. Aloisi guided them to a record of seven wins, five draws and six losses in the 18-game season. This meant the team finished in fourth spot, a decent result for the first-time coach. Members of that team included Craig Goodwin and Jeremy Walker, who have already gone on to regular A-League action.

With the departure of John van’t Schip in April 2012, the Heart had a big decision to make – who would replace the Dutchman? There were two main candidates, Aloisi and Heart assistant coach Ante Milicic. Also a former A-League player and Socceroo, Milicic had more runs on the coaching board. He had led Sydney United in the NSW State League and assisted van’t Schip for two years in Melbourne. He had also served as an assistant coach to the Young Socceroos for the 2009 and 2011 Under-20 World Cups. Despite his greater experience, Milicic was overlooked and then joined the Western Sydney Wanderers. Aloisi, the bigger name and more marketable face, was given the Heart job. Milicic is now assisting Tony Popovic at the Wanderers, the club that continues to delight with their surprising early success.

You can’t blame Aloisi for accepting the position – what coach would knock back an A-League head coaching shot, regardless of their experience? A-League coaching roles are as extremely rare. So, the Heart appointed Hayden Foxe as Aloisi’s assistant who, like the South Australian, had little experience but had completed his coaching badges in London. A rookie assisting a rookie seems an odd choice. Also helping out is the likes of Joey Didulica, Peter Zois and Ron Smith. A doyen of development in Australian football, Smith was a good choice. He used to run the AIS program and has played a leading hand in the development of some of our best ever players.

Aloisi’s debut season as head coach of the Heart has been a tough one. A fantastic opening round result, a 2-1 derby win over local rivals Melbourne Victory, was followed by a point in Wellington and then consecutive away losses in Perth, Gosford and Parramatta. This was ended with a 4-1 victory against the Roar, but then followed up with a 1-0 loss to Adelaide at home. At the moment the Heart sit in fifth place with eight wins, three draws and 11 losses. They may well play finals, but their form over the season has been patchy. They have still yet to record a single win away from home all season.

In fairness to Aloisi, there have been some factors out of his control to deal with. Injuries have hit the Heart pretty hard to the likes of Josip Tadic, Fred, Dylan Macallister, Mate Dugandzic, Sam Mitchinson and Simon Colisimo. The club also sold Aziz Behich and Michael Marrone in January, but recently reacquired Eli Babalj. Heart’s squad has rarely been settled this term, and surely that has affected consistency. The recent snub by Lucas Neill, when it appeared he was all set to join the club, has been another big blow. Regardless, it is the manager’s job to steer the ship past these obstacles, to deal with the issues that all coaches face and get the team firing on the field.

Coaching turnover has been amazing highly in the A-League this season. Already four have been shown the door. The coaching profession is becoming more cutthroat and more pressurised in Australia. The spotlight is growing. As a rookie coach, Aloisi’s introductory path has been very, very short to a top job. How he responds in the rest of the season will be key. It’s too early to judge whether Aloisi will be a good coach or not. The Heart took a big gamble in hiring the Adelaide-born ex-Socceroo with little coaching experience, now it’s up to him to prove to the club and the rest of the competition that they made the right decision.