AD: It must be very hard giving bad news to a young player. Attrition is surely the sad reality of being an academy coach…

NM: Yes, attrition is a factor. But I try to prepare young players both for success and failure. We have a sports psychologist who works with all the young boys and it’s not always about glowing success stories. Mental preparation for professional football is every bit as important as physical and technical.

AD: In a salary capped league, the coach is probably the biggest appointment…

NM: Agreed. We can’t compete with the resources of the richer clubs so have to find other ways of being successful. The good Mariners sides have always done that.

AD: You’ve shown how well you can compete against the better resourced clubs… how ambitious are you?

NM: Very ambitious. I wanted to get to the top as a player and now I want to get to the top as a coach. I wanted to make the Mariners the best development club in the country and now we’re the best in the whole Asian Confederation for academy players getting minutes in top leagues.

AD: Really?

NM: Yeah… the stats were released last week and we’re number one in Asia and number 17 in the world.

AD: That’s bloody amazing. Would it be of value to the league if development of academy players gave some sort of benefit to the salary cap?

NM: Of course it would. Every club would have an incentive to develop youth rather than just purchase it off those clubs that do. If we could get a salary cap discount for the players we’ve developed… that would help us a lot.

AD: Back to your ambitions, do you see yourself back in England one day?

NM: Definitely, but not yet. I’m really happy where I am. The Mariners are a great club and the Coast is a fantastic place to live… but I do want to get to the very top of my profession and, for an Englishman, that means the EPL.

AD: Having been successful in a salary capped league, do you take anything from what Ange Postecoglou has achieved?

NM: Of course. Ange has come from nowhere… in world football terms… and shown he’s just as good as anyone. That’s inspiring for me as a young coach. It goes to show that success in the world game can be translated anywhere.

AD: This year has been great for the fans. Obviously you would have targeted top 6 but how happy are you with where you are?

NM: We wanted to make the final of the FFA Cup and the top six in the league. So check, for both of those, but there’s no way we’re happy with that. We’ve not really achieved anything yet.

AD: I’ve heard some of the fans say you might go soft on Saturday, to protect your players for the finals…

NM: No way! I’ve never gone soft on any match and I’m not starting now. We’ve got a chance to finish fourth, which means a home match in the preliminary finals. Does anyone seriously think I’m not going all out for that?

AD: In what ways has the team progressed?

NM: It’s a new team with mostly new players. Covid affected our rhythm so that we lost points at the end of certain matches, but I’m really proud of how the boys have responded to those setbacks. It’s been a tough time and we’ve learned a lot about ourselves.

AD: As for tough times, how did you feel about Shaun Evans’ performance in the Melbourne City match?

NM: I’ve never seen anything like it… ever. VAR told him to review two blatantly wrong and critical decisions, and he refused. That was a six point turn around.

AD: What performance this season most impressed you?

NM: Definitely the game against Western Sydney when we were two nil down with a man sent off. To come back to 2 – 2… and then we should have won it… showed me the resilience of the team and I told them… that is the moment that sets us up for a finals push. And so it’s proved. You look at Melbourne City with all their resources and their front four… they’re all Socceroos, but they’ve only scored a couple more goals than us this season. That’s a massive tribute to our players and coaching staff.

AD: Everyone I speak to on the Coast is absolutely delighted with how you and the team are going, are you feeling the love?

NM: The fans are so affectionate. I am just so proud to see my team walk out… representing me and my methods but also representing the entire Mariners community. It’s why I am so desperate for us to win every game for the club and the fans.

AD: The Mariners probably have the best record of any AL club when it comes to producing Socceroos, how many more in the current squad?

NM: You know, when I took the job, that was one of my aims. It’s been a while since the Socceroos were full of Mariners but we’ve had Ruon and Kye in recent squads, and there are any number of others who are ready to step up. Lewis Miller is definitely good enough, but so are Dan Hall, Mark Birighitti, Jason Cummings, Josh Nisbet, Garang Kuol… I’m an ex academy coach. I can see the ability these players have, not just to play for the Socceroos but to have really excellent careers all over the world. All my players are capable of better but… when the time is ripe.

AD: What does the A League have to do to grow into the best version of itself?

NM: The new ownership structure is a step forward. There’s never been so much investment in the product, and the product has improved out of sight this year. What we need is more investment in the marketing, to let people know about the excellent product. I expect the league to push on strongly after Covid.

AD: Finally, what do you miss most about living in England?

NM: Obviously family, but what I most miss is the football culture. Just living and breathing that obsession with football, that I grew up with, is unlikely to be reproduced anywhere. Also fish and chips. They just don’t make it anywhere like it gets made in England.

AD: Have you tried Avoca Beach Seafoods at the southern end of the beach?

NM: Yeah, they’re not bad. Probably as close as I’ve come to proper fish and chips out here.

Adrian's books can be purchased at any good bookstore or through ebook alchemy. His first sci-fi novel will be published by Hague Publishing in 2022.


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