COVID-19 may be wreaking havoc around the globe but it will prove a blessing in time for Australian football according to the coach enjoying the view from the top of the A-League.
Alen Stajcic’s Central Coast Mariners sit at the summit following their first back-to-back wins in a campaign since December 2017.
Like many other A-League teams, the start has inspired by a litany of young Australian players who have been given an opportunity due to clubs being unable to lure the usual standard of foreigners due to the COVID crisis.
In their 2-0 weekend victory over Macarthur, the Mariners’ starting side featured seven Australian players aged 24 or under, while youngsters Daniel Bouman and Jordan Smylie combined off the bench for the second goal.
Meanwhile, the likes of Sydney’s Calum Nieuwenhof, Macarthur’s Denis Genreau, Brisbane’s Dylan Wenzel-Halls, and Adelaide trio James Delianov, Yaya Dukuly and Noah Smith have all shone amid extra game time they have been given so far this season.
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“I think from a national team perspective in five to 10 years, COVID is going to be the biggest blessing we’ve ever had,” Stajcic said.
“We’ll reap these rewards of all these opportunities that these kids are getting that have been blocked in the past by limited pathways, limited teams and opportunities with foreigners taking up the key spots.”
The Mariners still have three imports, currently in quarantine, to come into their squad but Stajcic insists he will have no issue making Costa Rican Marcos Urena, Pole Michal Janota and Serbian Stefan Jankovic earn their spots.
“They’re going to have to fight for it, that’s their dilemma. I don’t care who you are be it a foreigner or Aussie player, you’ll have to fight for your spot because these boys have earned that shirt,” he said.
In addition to the youngsters punching above their weight for the Mariners, a renewed team spirit led by seven-time Socceroo Oli Bozanic, veteran striker Matt Simon and star goalkeeper Mark Birighitti has been crucial in the club’s surprise start.
“Having those three key figures, they really just fast track all those ingredients that you need to be as united as we are right now and while it’s only two wins, it’s really laid a great foundation for the rest of the year,” Stajcic said.
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