Some years ago English football fans were delighted by a series of articles (and then books) penned by The Secret Footballer – a chap who claimed to have been a player and was lifting the lid on the murky, narcissistic and uber-indulgent world of professional football.
A few weeks ago I ripped off that excellent idea and applied it to the Mariners when approached by a very dodgy chap who just happens to be part of the Mariners set up...and now he's back with more to say.
AD: I’m hearing that morale couldn’t be higher at the Mariners this year.
Secret Mariner: Morale is off the charts. I can’t begin to tell you how much the boys are thriving on each other’s company but it all comes back to Staj. He’s on exactly the same page as Arnie when it comes to analysis and work ethic.
AD: Mike Mulvey was not?
SM: Mike had his good points but, for a start, he had no interest in video analysis. We’d occasionally do a bit with Monty but never with Mike. We’d train for an hour and that was it, but Alen Stajcic is like a general planning a campaign. Nothing is left to chance. Everything is weighed up, talked about… We do intense analysis of every game and Staj is constantly stopping the video to make his points and make sure everyone gets the team strategy and their own role within that strategy. It’s brilliant.
AD: I would have thought that level of analysis would be standard at any professional club.
SM: It definitely was at other places I’ve been but there’s always been a resource issue at the Mariners, except under Arnie because he just did all that stuff himself anyway. Now we’ve got a specialist video team which, to be fair, previous coaches didn’t have. We’ve joined the 21st century, but it’s not just that. Most of all the good feeling is down to hard work, but no-one works harder than Staj.
AD: It’s a shame he’s not here to hear you sing his praises.
SM: It’s a shame you’re not fat, bald and boring.
AD: That’s what my wife says! But never mind that…tell me about Sam Silvera. He had a blinder against Adelaide in the Cup semi, as did Milan Duric.
SM: Great players. Milan was enormous in that match, he’ll be really important for us this year. But the public are always most interested in the creative players and young Sammy will be a household name by the end of the season.
AD: What exactly is it about Sam that his teammates appreciate?
SM: Probably his instinctive ability to pull off the near impossible. He’s totally fearless and tries things that mere mortals wouldn’t dare…plus he has the talent to actually accomplish what he tries. That helps.
AD: He sure got fouled a lot against Adelaide.
SM: He did. That tells you a lot about his impact.
AD: I was very impressed with young Kye Rowles also. I loved him for the Joeys and he's finally starting to show that kind of form in the A-League.
SM: He's going to have a big year. He's just that little bit more experienced and growing into his proper place. Ziggy Gordon also will be enormous this year.
AD: So…how did the other players feel about Matt Simon getting sent off last week?
SM: We mainly felt that Matt was treated pretty badly. There were worse tackles by Adelaide players that didn’t get carded at all…why should our captain get sent off just for honestly jumping for a header? And that decision completely changed the result! We would’ve won if he’d not been sent off.
AD: I was saying to my wife just beforehand that it was time to get Simon off the pitch.
SM: Would you believe Staj had always planned to take Matt off at the 70 minute mark and was actually briefing Mike McGlinchey on the set plays when it all went to hell. We also had a plan for the 75th minute but it all had to be rethought on the run, and then they scored straight away.
AD: I seriously thought the team looked really tired in the last 15, especially Duric. So why no subs?
SM: Don’t know, to tell the truth.
AD: You don’t know? Forgive my scepticism but surely you discussed it after the game.
SM: Nope. We were all too shattered by losing a game we should’ve won…and then the focus just changed to Wanderers on Saturday night.
AD: So are the boys up for it?
SM: We are sooooo up for it…not least playing at Bankwest Stadium. It’s a real English style stadium with all the crowd right on top of you. The atmos will be outrageous! We’re all jumping out of our skins to get the season under way.
AD: Wanderers will be up for it too. They’re looking a lot stronger this year and will grow a leg at their new stadium.
SM: No doubt…but if we can hold them out until after half time it’ll shut the crowd out of the game. Presuming they turn up of course.
AD: You’re seriously suggesting the RBB could boycott a first home match at Bankwest? It’s history in the making!
SM: (laughs) They seem to boycott everything else. Actually don’t say that…I’ll look like a dickhead.
AD: No-one knows who you are.
SM: Maybe, but Marcus Babbel might use my words to stir up his players…and the crowd…and Staj will have my guts for garters if he works out who I am. And he might.
AD: Jeez, I’d love to help you out, but you called me fat, bald and boring.
SM: I meant it as a compliment!
AD: Right. I’ll see what I can do, but what’s your tip for Saturday?
SM: Mariners…2 – 1.
Adrian’s latest book The Fighting Man is in the shops right now or available through Booktopia. Adrian also wrote Mr Cleansheets and will have a couple of exciting announcements shortly.