New Central Coast Mariners boss Alen Stajcic isn’t accustomed to coaching a losing team, which is why the former Matildas coach sees the 2019 FFA Cup as his opportunity to speedily turn the club into winners.
Today, the Mariners kick off preparations for the new A-League Season 2019/20 which starts in October.
On Wednesday night, the club will find out who they've drawn with the 2019 FFA CUP draw live on Fox Sports.
And with another large-scale turnover of fresh local faces plus a raft of visa signings to come, it’ll be a new-look Mariners in the dugout and on the park.
Some of them with a point to prove, including strikers Abraham Majok and Jai Ingham (from Wanderers and Victory respectively), and the return of technically gifted playmaker Daniel De Silva.
And Stajcic, too. He wants to show his new club - where he signed a three-year deal with last month - that he's a winner.
“I’ve been in a winning environment for 15-20 years of my coaching career. I’ve never been in a team that’s at the bottom of the league,” the former Matildas coach and W-League winner, who took over the Mariners late last season, told FTBL
“So 15 years straight being with teams who’ve been challenging for the Premiership and Semi-Finals I’ve almost never missed out on finals anywhere I’ve been, so it’s not something I’m aiming to do for the first time this year."
With the Mariners starting pre-season earlier than most, Stajcic, it’s all about a winning momentum.
Which means the FFA Cup, which kicks off for A-League clubs in late July, early August, is vital in changing the club's losing vibe.
The FFA Cup has been a disaster for the club in recent years as fit and firing NPL outfits have rolled the rusty Mariners in the early rounds.
The Gosford-based club has been hampered in their A-League preparations by crashing out of the FFA Cup so early.
“The biggest change we need is to get into the habit of winning. A winning team breeds winning and a losing team breeds losing mentalities,” he said.
“We’ll go out to win every friendly every FFA Cup game and every A-League game, we really need to change that culture and mentality around winning every contest we’re part of.
“So the FFA Cup will be a big priority. It’s not easy given it comes four to six weeks into pre-season.
“But it’s certainly something that’s a key component in changing the mentality and winning mentality, and not just using it as a warm-up match for the preparation to the A-League.
“It’s a goal for the club but we just need to win the first game [Round of 32] and once you get into that rhythm of winning it’s a lot easier to keep winning.”
Stajcic took over with just a few rounds left last season following an 8-2 drubbing at home at the hands of a ruthless Wellington Phoenix.
He says the move took him out of his comfort zone initially.
But his experience with the Matildas in 2014 - when he came in a month before the Asian Cup after FFA sacked the unpopular Hesterine De Reus following a player revolt - served him well.
“You can’t reinvent the wheel in such a short period," he said. "I learnt that with the Matildas in 2014.
"You can’t change everything in a short space of time, so you target two or three key elements and focus on and do your best within those two or three areas.
“And I learned that last time with the Matildas and I think that was fairly effective this time with the Mariners, where we addressed two or three components on and off the field.
“But to be successful in the future, we need more than that.
“We need a change of approach and change in mentality and we need a change, a total change in environment and positivity within the group.
“Coming into a team in Round 21 after an 8-2 loss. I’ve never done that before, coming in after 80% of the year with the team on the bottom of the league.
“On top of going into the A-League for the first time, all those other elements made it even more of an issue of not knowing what to expect.
“But what I found is the elite football I’d been involved in over the last 15 years really prepared me well.
“There are so many similarities in many elite environments.
“And it was a more positive environment than I thought it would be considering the result that had happened a few days earlier, the 8-2.
“They were looking for some kind of inspiration. And really wanted to change and improve themselves.
“But this gives me hope that over the next two to three years we can have some improvement and provide a good foundation not only for next year but for the years ahead.
“I thought about that watching the final and semi-finals. We lost 1-0 to Adelaide and 2-1 to Victory. Even within a short space of time, I saw we could get improvement.
“But for us to compete regularly we need more improvement and more consistency.”
In patches, they competed but not consistently. And depth wasn’t there to see them through an entire season.
Incredibly, the club didn’t have a full-time strength and conditioning coach and video analyst. That’s now been addressed.
Stajcic added: “Everyone really, really wants to succeed.
"It’s not as if I came into an environment where people had given up or lost hope. Or didn’t care.
“It was the exact opposite of that. It gives me hope.”