Canberra coach reveals his ‘non-negotiables’ & why he’s ‘a little bit scared’ about new role

'A little bit scared to be honest': Antoni Jagarinec discusses appointment as Canberra United head coach

Fear, nerves, gratitude and excitement: these were the feelings swirling through Antoni Jagarinec as he was announced as Canberra United’s new head coach – his first top job in the Liberty A-League.

The 38-year-old has become the ninth head coach in the club’s history; promoted from his role as assistant to the outgoing Njegosh Popovich, Jagarinec is an up-and-coming coaching talent who knows the club and the local region back to front, having spent two separate stints at Canberra United whilst creating a dynasty with Belconnen United in the NPLW Capital Football.

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It’s Jagarinec’s deep connection to football in the nation’s capital that has made his appointment as Canberra United head coach a daunting proposition – but it’s an opportunity he’s ready to seize with both hands as he prepares the club for the 2024-25 Liberty A-League campaign.

“(I’m) a little bit scared, to be honest,” he said in his first press conference as head coach.

“I’m very grateful for the opportunity and excited for it but definitely nervous. I know the mountain that we have in front of us. I know the club inside out and the history that we’ve had here for the past 16-17 seasons – I want to add to that.

“We don’t just want to be here and compete. We want to build on something moving forward for the next A-League season.”

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“I know that it’s my first year as an A-League head coach, so that comes with its own challenges,” he added.

“But I think that as humbling as the as the messages of support were this morning that I’ve received, being a community boy and a local boy, it comes with a sense of pressure with all those messages of support too.

“I wear Canberra on my sleeve, and I’m proud to say that, for a while while I’ve been on the bench, but also as a fan in the stands as well. So I know that what scares me, is not wanting to let the community down and I’m not going to rest until we’ve got as much success as we can on and off the park.”

Jagarinec takes the reins after Popovich’s two-season stint in charge of the club and the newly-appointed head coach says working under the former boss taught him a lot about what to expect as he steps into a role that he didn’t expect to step into so soon – but has always been ready for.

“For me personally, (I spent) a couple years ago sat in the background and went: ‘You know what, I’m gonna play the long game here’,” he said.

“I’m here for Canberra football, for women’s football, especially. So I was okay with that. I knew that I was confident, and I hoped in actual fact that I would be here one day, I didn’t necessarily expect it now, or previously, or even in the near future.

“So now that I’m here I’m excited and grateful for the opportunity and going to give what I can back to the club, knowing knowing the ins and outs of it.”

“(Njegosh) is a great mentor of mine and a good mate of mine as well,” he continued. “We spent lots of time on the phone, on the pitch together, so I learned just naturally just by day to day, about (the) things (he’) learned and his experiences and whatnot.

“But I’m going to add my level to that as well – my football experience, my way of thinking. He was the king of saying: football is opinion-based. So you know, I’m gonna really take that and put my opinion and my mindset on things.”

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Former Canberra United head coach Njegosh Popovich.

Canberra United is in a unique position as the only A-Leagues club run by its local member federation, Capital Football. Jagarinec says conversations with Capital Football CEO Samantha Farrow were pivotal to him accepting the role – conversations that satisfied his “non-negotiables” for taking on the top job at the club.

“During the whole process, I was pretty open and honest that I would love this job but I don’t need it,” he said.

“So those there were things talking with Capital Football and Sam, we went back and forth about a few things that were non-negotiables for me, and they came back to the party and we negotiated through those things.

“For me to get involved now. I still think Capital Football is committed to Canberra United for the next season. I’ve got an opportunity now to put my flavour on it, do the best that I can. After that, it’s okay. What happens, happens. It’s not what we’re thinking about right now.

“The non-negotiables for me (are) having the level of freedom to pick my team… it has to fit inside a budget and it has to fit inside what Canberra United has looked like and what they want to look like this year, absolutely.

“But the freedom to pick my team and to be myself. I know that I’ve said this a couple of times now, that is my first A-League head coach role and the trust that Capital Football and Sam has put in me, I appreciate that – but I still need the ability to be myself and not (be) looked over – and that was a big thing for me and I’m pretty confident that that’s going to happen. I’m going to live and die by my own results.”

Capital Football will continue to operate the club in season 2024-25 after the ACT Government committed to a one-off contribution of $200,000 along with their annual subsidy of $250,000 for the 2024-25 season to help keep the club afloat.

But with a new A-Leagues license in Canberra planned for 2025-26, the future of Canberra United beyond next season is not yet clear; the club has lost three key players in the off-season – Chloe Lincoln, Sasha Grove and Vesna Milivojevic – yet Jagarinec firmly believes he’ll manage to retain quality squad members whilst adding to the playing group to be competitive in the new campaign.

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“Sam (Farrow) and Capital Football have done a really good job of communicating to the players through the whole process,” he said. “Not necessarily with news of a head coach, but that we’re going again, we want you involved for the people.

“Ultimately like any football club, you know, the coach is going to have to make the decision so they put me in a position where there’s lots of quality and lots of people that want to come back to the club. We just have to finalise that.

“Over the last weekend or so I’ve reached out to a few players and put the support networks out and we’ll have some news pretty soon.

“We’ve got a really good list. We can put our team on the park tomorrow and be competitive. It’s that simple.

“Obviously, with a few players that have left there are big shoes to fill. They’re Canberra girls which makes it even bigger – but that’s football. We have to respect the history, we have to respect the girls, and we have to respect their football decisions as well.

“Where we are in the environment in women’s football at the moment, there’s a lot of opportunity for players to come. So we’re not going to leave any stone unturned.

“Is it going to be tough? Absolutely. You can’t lose the calibre of players that we have and just say: ’It’s going to be fine’. It’s not. But that doesn’t mean that we’re not going to replace like for like – or better.”

Vesna Milivojevic is a big loss for Canberra United ahead of the 2024-25 season.

Jagarinec’s focus for the coming months will be to formalise his playing squad but ultimately, the success of the new Canberra head coach’s first season in charge will be judged on the team’s on-field performances when the 2024-25 campaign gets up and running.

“I need to be realistic about the mountain that we have to climb,” he said. “And I think I’m going to recalibrate this decision come to season start, but it’s to win football matches, it’s to be up the park as high as we can. It’s to play finals football.

“Look at the the history of the club, that’s what it means to people but success can be in many different ways as well.

“So, one-year contract, we’re going to do the best that we can and like I said, we’re not gonna leave any stone unturned off the park. But when we get onto the park, that’s where I back myself. I’m going to do the best I can with what (players) we attract and sign, and move forward from there.”

For all the latest transfer news involving your Liberty A-League club, make sure to stay across our dedicated Transfer Centre