Smithies talks first-time head coaches this season

IT’S the job they have dreamed of, but the one that could give them nightmares. Being a head coach is a unique role in football, standing alone even in a packed dressing room and the figure always held most accountable.

A clutch of A-League coaches will enter the furnace for almost the first time this season, a unique set of tyro head coaches appointed at half the clubs in the league.

Between them Carl Veart, Ante Milicic, Warren Moon, Patrick Kisnorbo, Grant Brebner and Richard Garcia have just a handful of games as head coach at the elite level – especially in terms of men’s club football.

Three got a taste at the end of last season, and Milicic has of coursed coached in the firestorm of a World Cup – most of them also have experience as an assistant coach. Yet it’s different to be the one in the hot seat at club level: the day-to-day demands, the constant focus from the media, the ego managing and squad planning, and a thousand other tasks. All of those decisions come back to you. And as for job security… that’s for bank managers and town planners.

“It can be lonely, when you’re the one making the final decisions,” says John Aloisi, who was appointed head coach at the then Melbourne Heart little more than a year after retiring as a player, and also steered Brisbane Roar to consecutive appearances in the finals.

“When things aren’t going well, you’re the one who that’s by themselves, and in the firing line.

“That thought (of what might happen) is always there. I really hope this doesn’t apply to the guys in the A-League but in Europe, they say you’re not a real coach until you’ve been fired, it happens so often.

“Ironically we look at the return of crowds (after COVID-19-enforced empty stadiums) as a good thing, but it does add pressure – some coaches have never dealt with that, or the media focus, or other situations.”

Those like Veart, Kisnorbo and Milicic who have assisted other head coaches will understand the need for a No 2 – or some other sounding board – who has been through periods of negativity, and can help with a sense of perspective.

Two or three losses in a row can sow seeds of self-doubt, or magnify the pressure from outside.

“The assistant coaches, the players, are all part of a group, but you… well that’s why it’s so important to have someone you can confide in and talk to,” said Aloisi.

“Someone experienced, someone who has seen it before. Because the majority of head coaches will experience tough times at some point, it’s inevitable.

“It’s how you get through that – basically have a thick skin, don’t read social media, be focused on what your job is. Be clear in your mind what you want to do.”