Branko's way

He's one of the most recognisable coaches in Australia and has taken the Newcastle Jets from the bottom of the ladder last season into this year's Hyundai A-League finals. He is Branko Culina.

He's one of the most recognisable coaches in Australia and has taken the Newcastle Jets from the bottom of the ladder last season into this year's Hyundai A-League finals. He is Branko Culina.

There is little doubt Branko Culina is one of the most successful coaches in this country.

His longevity in the game is testimony to that.

At just 52 he has coached over 300 national league games with such clubs as the Melbourne Knights, Sydney Olympic, Sydney United and Canberra Cosmos in the old NSL.

More recently he has coached Sydney FC and is currently leading the Newcastle Jets into their fourth finals campaign in their fifth season in the Hyundai A-League.

Born in Croatia, he immigrated to Melbourne at the age of 10 and it wasn't long before he was making his mark on the football field.

He captained the St Albans Saints senior team at just 15 years of age before going on to enjoy successful stints at the Melbourne Knights, Blacktown and Sydney United in the NSL but he hung his boots up prematurely in his late 20s.

"I was Rothman's gold medal winner in 1985 and just a year later I had lost 20 percent eyesight in my right eye and it really slowed me down. It affected my reflexes and I also had problem with asthma, so I gave it up. By the time I was 30 I was coaching," he told Sportal.

"Before I coached Melbourne Knights in the national league I coached North Geelong, went to win two premierships in a row in the Victorian league, which was unheard of because in those days the premier league clubs provided all the players for the national league."

He enjoyed his most successful stage as coach of Sydney United, when the team won the premiership in 1996-97 before going on to be Sydney Olympic's long-serving coach in the late 90s.

By his own admission he was in a 'comfy' job as technical director at Football New South Wales when the Hyundai A-League revitalised football in Australia with its debut just five seasons ago.

And from its inception Culina harboured a desire to try his luck in the new national league.

"I was actually appointed as the first Sydney FC coach and then the ownerships changed where Mr Lowy became a major stakeholder of Sydney so I had to forfeit that role," revealed Culina.

"But I suppose I always wanted to be a part of the A-League to see what it would be like compared to the old national league."

"I got my chance two years later with Sydney and I was honoured to be coach of Sydney for a number of reasons, most importantly because I was the first Australian to be coach of a big club."

"But unfortunately for me after the ACL we had a change of ownership once again and just nine games into the season I was gone. So that was disappointing but thankfully I am back with Newcastle."

Culina was initially appointed technical director at the Jets but was thrust into the hot seat when former coach Gary van Egmond suddenly departed to take up a coaching role at the Australian Institute of Sport just a few weeks before the start of the 2009/10 A-League season.

Culina didn't need to be asked twice and he has made a good fist of things in his first season at the club, dragging the team off the bottom of the ladder and into the finals.

"You can't beat working for a club where you only have the owner to answer to, and (Jets owner) Con (Constantine) has been terrific to me," said Culina.

"There was a time at Sydney when everything was terrific, but in this game you have to be prepared for the worst."

"Frank Arok, ex-national team coach, taught me when I was at Sydney Olympic, 'you work as if you are going to 100 years doing what you are doing knowing that tomorrow that you will no longer be here'."

"That is what I did at Sydney and that is how I am at Newcastle now."

As a coach winning premierships is always paramount but success is not always managed by silverware, and as Culina explained, developing young players to their full potential is just as rewarding.

"The most satisfying thing (about coaching) is seeing the number of players that have played with the national team - and at the World Cup who you have been involved with at some stage," he said.

"I don't think any coach can say they have made a player but if you have added and made a little contribution to their growth success and development you should be proud of that."

"Winning - not everyone can win but if you get the best out of everyone at the club with the resources you have you will get great enjoyment out of that as well."

"Not everyone has the resources to win everything but you can still be a winner by pushing yourself and getting the most out of yourself and everyone around you - to me that is success as well."

If there is anything he has bred into the Newcastle players it is a self-belief and a strong desire to win.

The Jets record shows they only drew four matches this year. When the game was in the balance Culina often gambled to go all-out for a win or nothing at all.

"You start with a draw so you have got to try to get more than that," he said. "I took a cautious approach against Adelaide last week and it was too cautious - I didn't enjoy it and neither did the players."

"We always try to win, I like winners. Napoleon liked winners; I want the players to learn to be winners."

"(Legendary rugby league coach)Wayne Bennett in his time at the Broncos and Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United are very big about having people around you who are winners and want to succeed."

"We talked before about having the underdog tag - I don't like it when you are the underdog you are always up against it and you need to have some luck to succeed in the long term."

"When you are the favourite it means you possess something that has made you a favourite and people believe in you - I like that."

"We haven't reached that stage at Newcastle but we want to go into every game believing that we can win, not hoping, but believing we can win."

In his time, Culina has seen many great players pass from under his tutelage onto international honours and stardom overseas - names such as Viduka, Emerton, Popovic, Zdrillic and of course his own son Jason, have benefited from his technical and skilled coaching.

But he was quick to name the best he has coached.

"I have been very lucky, I have coached a lot of good players, but Mark Viduka was the most graceful player - I got him at 17 and he was already a man, he was already a player ready to play even though I didn't play him straight away," Culina said.

"I brought him in slowly and by the next year he was top goal scorer. Marisic and Brett Emerton were also great players and of course Jason. They were all terrific."

"When Jason was a young kid you could see he had the talent but I think Jason did it himself. People will say nepotism and whatever but that is crap because if anything he went to Ajax in Amsterdam - not many players could do that."

"The fact that he is my son probably made it harder for him as my other son will tell you."

"I give people opportunity and I don't give up on them too easily but I don't give them an easy passage I want them to earn it."

"I think Jason proved that he didn't need me as a father."

"Sure, we worked on his game away from the club but when he was there he had to be 10 percent better than anyone because he was my son."

Finally, there is one jewel in the coaching crown that Culina still covets - the Qantas Socceroos job.

"I used to dream about it and I was very ambitious and I was very close in the David Hill era after Terry Venables when Frank Farina got it," he said.

"Now I am more realistic, I still push myself to the limit and I want to be the best coach I can be. I have 300-and-something games and if you look at the win ratio, it is not bad."

"I wasn't always lucky to coach good teams - I coached lots of ordinary teams that became good teams, but being national coach doesn't drive me as much anymore."

"I just want to be involved in the game. But there's one thing about me - when I was a player when I was no longer good enough to be the best player I gave it up."

"And I will be like that in coaching - if I can't be one of the best, when I lost that touch that is required, then I will give up."

"You see it sometimes, people just taking the money because it is a job, it is not a job for more it is a passion. I love what I do."

"I love coaching and I just want to be the best that I can be. I will let others decide if I am good at it but I think my record speaks for itself and I will try to enjoy it as much as I can. It has been a great journey."