As the Central Coast Mariners departed Sydney Airport bound for Japan on Monday morning, they did so still mulling over where their focus should be: Asia or the A-League?
This has become a serious conundrum for Australian teams. This year, it’s the Mariners having to balance the demands of competing on two fronts, despite there initially being real hope they could succeed on both.
This is their third foray into Asia but Central Coast have looked out of their depth previously. Their first stint, in 2009, yielded no wins from six matches. Last year, they won only once.
With Graham Arnold desperate to prove himself as a coach of international standing, his only realistic path to do so is via the Asian Champions League.
He has known about this campaign long enough, and worked hard with the Mariners’ fitness coach, Andrew Clark, to tailor a program that allows the players to cope with the physical demands of competing in both. However, planning only allows for so much. After returning to Central Coast after the match against Sydney FC on Saturday night, the players had one day of recovery before returning down the F3 for their early-morning departure.
One full day of acclimatisation in Tokyo awaits before kick-off against Kashiwa Reysol. They don’t get back to Sydney until Friday. That leaves less than 48 hours to prepare for the visit of Brisbane.
Some might argue the top teams in Europe do this every season, but that’s apples and oranges. The Mariners have a squad of just 23 to choose from. Although they could sign uncontracted players strictly for the ACL, but funds weren’t available. It’s even harder now for Australian clubs given the realignment of the seasons. Previously, as soon as the A-League finished, the group stages of the Champions League began, making demands a lot easier to handle.
This time, the Mariners play the sixth and final group stage game on April 30, just nine days after the grand final, which, by the way, is due to take place 48 hours before the Mariners’ game against Suwon. Yes, in Korea.
It is dreadful timing. Unfortunately, Central Coast might have to crash and burn in Asia, and labour through the rest of the domestic season, just to prove how tough Australian clubs have it.
”There’s two sides to fatigue, the physical side and the mental side and the signs say the physical side is OK but then the mental side shows me they could be mentally fatigued,” Arnold said after the defeat against Sydney.
He has been lobbying the FFA for help with scheduling but his arguments have fallen on deaf ears. If Wellington’s match against Newcastle could be shifted to help the All Whites’ World Cup qualifier preparations, why couldn’t the Mariners’ game against Brisbane have been moved to a Monday night?
It would be sad to see the Mariners, having the been the most consistent team for most of the season, crawl to the finish line in both competitions.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.