Mariners moving towards a bright future
Central Coast Mariners are not the biggest club in the league, but they are a club with a very bright future, despite their doubters.
Might is not always right. Central Coast Mariners prove it, time and again. And yet despite the romance, the spirit, and the wonder, of their enduring ability to defy the odds, there are those who still argue against their value in helping to build the Hyundai A-League.
There are endless questions not only about their ability to survive, but their right to survive. This is a club which represents the smallest population base in the competition, after all. Not only that but - because it's a commuter belt wedged between Sydney and Newcastle - it's also the most loosely defined. The inference being, what can the Mariners possibly bring to the table? The answer is simple. Plenty.
We all know what the Mariners have achieved so far. On and off the pitch. It's the stuff of fables, in truth. And there's no evidence of complacency. Central Coast are clearly the best team in the league this season. After three heart-rendering near-misses, a maiden championship is theirs for the taking. They're that good, and that focused.
Perhaps they may have to complete the job without key players like Mat Ryan, Tom Rogic, Michael McGlinchey and Pedj Bojic if they go in the January transfer window. But complete it they should. Graham Arnold doesn't like selling his stars, but he's always got a contingency plan. We saw it last season with the departures of Matt Simon, Alex Wilkinson and Rostyn Griffiths, and if we see it again over the next month expect the likes of Justin Pasfield, Anthony Caceres, Brad McDonald and Troy Hearfield to step up to the plate. 'Arnie' is meticulous to the point of obsession.
In a way, getting results has proved to be the easy part for the Mariners. They've been doing that since the start thanks to astute recruiting, a spirited dressing room culture, and a trademark siege mentality.
What's changed is they're doing it with more style, more structure, and more purpose. If you haven't noticed how much the quality of the average Central Coast player has improved, you haven't been watching very closely. The Mariners now get players other clubs want. That's a huge vote of confidence in how they've evolved.
But the real reason why they struggle to shake off the doubters is something more prosaic. Money.
The assumption being they will never have the financial stability to grow as the league grows. Wrong. Again, if you haven't been noticing how they have re-structured their business, you haven't been looking too hard. While it's unlikely Central Coast will ever be a rich club, they don't have to remain a poor one. The Centre of Excellence project at Tuggerah is the ticket to long-term viability, and it's only another 12-18 months before those revenue streams start to effectively underwrite the football club.
The tough decisions Peter Turnbull and Mike Charlesworth make today are all about making sure the club can reap those benefits. In that context, selling a player or two to pay the bills in the meantime is a small price to pay.
So if we imagine the Mariners in a decade, or two, what do we see? A club entrenched in a rapidly growing community, a community which has discovered pride in its own identity, based at a state-of-the-art facility which it rents to clubs from all over the state and parts of Asia, playing fixtures out of a stadium it manages and develops, drawing an increasing number of players from it's own backyard, attracting others because of world-class standards in coaching, strength and conditioning and sports science, offering an established development pathway through an academy system and a semi-professional feeder team, and all this in a part of the world which provides a lifestyle to envy.
Not every club can be big and brash, or rich and famous, or fill stadiums, or buy players instead of sell them. Central Coast Mariners will never be that club, and in most cases they don't want to be. But they are just as important to the future of the Hyundai A-League as everyone else. Give them time and they'll prove it. In the meantime, give them a break.