The Mariners were deserving Premiers but has Graham Arnold taken them as far as he can?
The Mariners were deserving Premiers last season but has Graham Arnold taken them as far as he can?
Yet again last season, Central Coast Mariners proved the doubters wrong. The little club that could, did - and beat the record-breaking Brisbane Roar to finish the home-and-away season on top of the table.
The premiership may not carry the same weight of glamour as a grand final triumph but for those who see the league as the true description of the best, it was no less than Graham Arnold-s side deserved.
Off the field, the club have developed admirably, with the construction of an impressive purpose-built training facility - but the direct effects of that investment won-t be felt for some time and the problems Arnold managed so well last season could become insurmountable this term.
The Mariners, as always, have a settled and consistent squad, but Arnold has made very few additions. The departure of former captain Alex Wilkinson is a big loss and at 37 Patrick Zwaanswjk isn-t getting any quicker.
Regardless how talented the likes of Zac Anderson and Trent Sainsbury are, the defensive rock the Mariners built their premiership on has been broken.
But the biggest hangover from last season is likely to be the lack of goals.
The Mariners haven-t had a 10-15 goals a season striker since Matt Simon left, and this surely should have been a key area to strengthen for Arnold. Bernie Ibini-Isei is talented but raw (goals last season: 7); Mile Sterjovski (4) is experienced but hardly prolific - the same can be said for Danny McBreen (2) and Adam Kwasnik (6).
While their rivals have invested heavily, Arnold has had to put his faith in youth and stability, both admirable qualities but not title-winning ones. The Mariners- financial restraints are well-known and Arnold has achieved wonders - but has he taken them as far as he can?
Key player: Bernie Ibini-Isei The 20-year-old made his mark for the Mariners last season as a bustling, physical centre forward, drawing comparisons with Mark Viduka.
Seven goals in his first full term was a good place to start but the Mariners will be dependent on Ibini-Isei-s rapid development, and ability to finish off those half-chances that he missed last season.
Playing alongside someone like Sterjovski will help and should create some space in and around the opposition box to take advantage of.
X-Factor: Tom Rogic After a sparkling debut season, 20-year-old Rogic decided to commit himself to the Mariners and that-s probably the best news Arnold could have has during the off-season.
Although still young, Rogic-s ability on the ball and intelligence when driving forward from midfield could be crucial for the Mariners this season, who otherwise lack outright creative talents.
Coach: Graham Arnold After turning down Sydney FC to continue his project in Gosford, Arnold obviously still has some goals he wants to achieve with the Mariners.
There is no question he has faith in his squad and the former national team boss-s eye for developing talent means Central Coast will have a young and mobile squad to compete with the best this season. But he also might just be casting one envious eye down the F3 at Ian Crook-s squad list and headline-grabbing signings.
Transfers Central Coast Mariners In: Nick Montgomery (Sheffield United), Brent Griffiths (Heidelberg United), Mile Sterjovski (Dalian Aerbin), Zac Anderson (Gold Coast United), Anthony Caceres (Mariners NYL), James Oates (Mariners NYL), Mitchell Duke (Mariners NYL) Out: Alex Wilkinson (Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors FC), Brad Porter (retired), Stuart Musialik (released), Sutton (loan expired), Sam Gallagher (Melbourne Victory)
Key fixtures Round 5 v Sydney FC (H) A visit from the noisy neighbours is always an event in Gosford but Del Piero-s debut at Bluetongue should ensure a packed house.
Round 8 v Brisbane Roar (H) As the best two clubs of the last two seasons, the Mariners-Roar rivalry has delivered some great spectacles . No reason this year should be any different.
Round 21 v Perth Glory (A) Losing a preliminary final at home on penalties is always going to leave a scar. Late on in the season, the Mariners will look to extract some revenge on Perth.
Stat Shot The Mariners had the most shots on goal (412) and second-most crosses (137) last season but still scored fewer goals (43) than Perth (48) and Brisbane (57).
Prediction: Third (This is not the author-s prediction but an average of footballaustralia.com.au contributors.)
The Hyundai A-League 2012/13 season kicks off on Friday 5 October with the season-s first Melbourne derby at Etihad Stadium. Click here for tickets to all the matches.