Transfer ‘piss-take’ that saw a Socceroo escorted away by cops: ‘Not on my watch’

The Isuzu UTE A-League Grand Final 2022-23 - highlights

In an extract from his new book, former Socceroo Andy Bernal takes us into the inner sanctum of the Mariners’ title charge.

After a storied playing career in Australia and the UK, Andy Bernal joined the Mariners as Head of Athletic Development in 2022 – but it was when head coach Nick Montgomery dubbed him Vibe Manager that things heated up. In a new book charting last season when the Mariners mounted an unlikely but successful bid for the A-League Championship, Bernal reveals how he helped to pep up enigmatic striker Jason Cummings – and tried to protect the squad from outside interference.

Jason (Cummings) was priority number one. He had returned from his off-season Bali rampage overweight and unfit, to say the least, but after Monty and I spoke to him with both empathy and understanding, he embraced anything and everything extra that I gave him.

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In these initial weeks, we began to work with and understand each other. It was a coming together of two crazy minds that just worked. We would chat for hours on subjects that were far from football, and his intelligence had no boundaries. If I brought up ancient Rome, he would name the Emperors. If I brought up presidents of the United States, he would name them in order. If I brought up Frank Sinatra, he would immediately sing I Did It My Way and not miss a word!

A tattoo of his dog Carlos, the Joker on his hand and one of superstar Olivia Newton-John from his favourite movie Grease adorned his body and were examples of how weird and wonderful his mind is. I once told him he reminded me of a fantastic Celtic striker who moved to Arsenal and before I had a chance to name him, he replied with “Champagne Charlie Nicholas”! Jason wasn’t even born when Charlie was playing at Highbury (Arsenal’s old stadium) and frequenting London’s nightclubs but somehow, he knew of him.

He did history very well. He had a genial brain; hanging out with him was like playing The Chase and he was the Chaser! He was also a warrior and very strong-willed, so I could not and did not break him, as much as I tried. The gym wasn’t his place of choice but he had the ability to do any exercise with the technical precision and as much loading as the best in our squad, it was just a matter of pushing the right buttons. In the wrong hands he would give nothing, but in the right hands he would superset every machine in the gym.

On a football level, he reminded me of the legendary Real Madrid and Spanish international striker Raul, who could play 9 or as a false 9 equally well. On top of all the football training and pre-season running, we boxed ourselves silly to a point where Jason would call out Jake Paul for a boxing bout, and he was deadly serious. I knew if Jake put up a few million dollars, we were on our way to Vegas!

The kilos began to come down, his overall fitness went up and now he was in line for a Socceroos World Cup squad selection. Graham Arnold picked him, and then he was off to Qatar, achieving what many footballers dream of, but only a few achieve.

*** 

It’s a double-edged sword, this football business, and transfer periods bring up many varied human emotions. As soon as you fix or further develop players to perform at very high levels, they attain success and with that comes interest from other clubs. Sometimes this is done respectfully and sometimes not, as was the case with our superstar Brian Kaltak.

So outstanding were his performances that representatives from one of our rival clubs spoke to him directly on the day we were playing them at home. I’ve been in the deals that took (David) Beckham to Real Madrid and Tim Cahill to Everton, moves that were procured and concluded respectfully by all parties, so you can’t trick a trickster.

Neither our club nor I will ever tolerate approaches being made to our players without our consent and without going through the proper channels and processes first. If another club comes to us in the right manner, then it’s a business transaction. If not, it’s a piss-take and they will be told that in no uncertain terms.

Somehow on the evening of that match, I found trouble again after approaching the offending club’s Director of Football and CEO in the tunnel after the match. I had been longing for this moment all night and it finally came with a few heated words, but not much else. It was nothing too drastic, it looked way worse than it was as I was escorted away by our Chairman and a few NSW police officers on duty that night.

At least on this occasion I wasn’t put in handcuffs as had been done to me years ago while playing for Sydney Olympic against Wollongong Wolves in the old National Soccer League. Of course, it got back to A-League headquarters, the hierarchy giving me a slap on the wrist and a stern warning, but I had made my point. We as a club will never be stepped on or bullied, either on the football pitch or off it. Not on my watch.

The Vibe Manager by Andy Bernal is available from good bookstores or Fair Play Publishing.