You may recall that earlier in the season, when Perth Glory was going through a very poor run, I suggested that Ian Ferguson was clearly not the man to lead the club to greater success. I may have said somewhere along the line that if he managed to land us in the top four, I’d eat my hat. Well, all I can say is that I hope the NSL vintage cloth has improved with time like a fine wine:
"Tonight's house special comes with a serve of Humble Pie..."
I should say then, a big well done to Fergie and the club. While I believe fans should expect Perth to be in the top four each year, it wasn’t something I was even considering during that very barren spell in the middle of the season – and the coach and players deserve credit for turning it around and securing a home final. So, well done lads and well done Ian Ferguson.
Nevertheless, there are still lingering doubts about the Ferguson tenure at Perth. I don’t see how the club could sack the guy given that he’s achieved a home final, but at the same time I don’t see other A-League clubs queuing up to poach him from us either – and he is after all out of contract at the end of the season.
Like Perth themselves, Ferguson hasn’t yet convinced many fans that he is 100% the right choice going forward. He has a good squad, and they occupy a decent position on the table at present. But the blooding of youth has been few and far between, the responses to tactical issues slow, and team performances inconsistent – best illustrated by the debacle that was the Gold Coast United game on the weekend.
I would put most of the blame on the players themselves for that effort – and I think most of them would accept that, too – but in part, it is Fergie’s job to make sure everyone is fully switched on, and the lethargic performance from the team is a good example of Ferguson’s own weaknesses, too – looks good in parts, but contains gaping holes in others.
Granted, not everything is Ferguson’s fault. The club’s hardline cost-saving stance has seen players unhappy because their contracts are completely up in the air, with questions left unanswered about their futures at the club. Mile Sterjovski and Adam Hughes were shipped out mid-season, leaving very little depth in Ferguson’s squad.
In Hughes’ case, it also meant that the club lost a player with time still to run on his contract – lost for no transfer fee either, which demonstrates just how desperate owner Tony Sage is to cut costs, and seemingly just how ruthless CEO Paul Kelly will be when it comes to achieving that goal.
When you are on the verge of just the club’s second A-League finals appearance, you can be sure that as a head coach the last thing you want to see is your players distracted and your squad depth diminished; not to mention the fact that your own future is still up in the air as well! With injuries to key players like Jacob Burns and Liam Miller, all of a sudden people in the Glory offices must be wondering if they did the right thing after all.
Yet even if Ferguson can’t be blamed for these problems, and even if on a personal level he has taken the heat and pressure rather admirably throughout the season, fans will still wonder if he’s the man for the job. Contributing to this view are the following reasons:
He takes a long time to react. Perhaps the most serious question fans have is that Ferguson took a very long time to address the team’s issues during Perth’s horror run of form. The change of tactics and personnel that had been necessary for several weeks did not come until nine or ten games into a run that yielded a measly five points. Even then, red cards and injuries seemed to force him into the formational change that took place. It makes you wonder if the slide downwards would have continued had his hand not been forced. Likewise, the team hasn’t been completely convincing in the absence of Liam Miller, and it would seem Ferguson is unsure of the best way to arrange his players – although it is hardly his fault that numerous chess pieces have been stolen from his side of the board.
Certain players are trusted week in, week out. Granted, this is something all coaches succumb to at some point, but it is still annoying. Many fans wonder if, for example, Jacob Burns is suited to a 4-4-2 in the same way that he suits the 4-2-3-1. They argue his mobility isn’t up to par with some of his teammates, and the central midfield pairing becomes too static. However, regardless of formation, if he is fit, Burns plays for Glory. Squad members like Steve McGarry and Jesse Makarounas however have had to bide their time silently with no look-in for a number of weeks – in the case of the latter, there hasn’t been a single minute of game time for him. Granted though, it isn’t all one-way traffic - countering this is the Mile Sterjovski situation, where Fergie had the fortitude to bench a player David Mitchell used to play week in, week out regardless of form.
He doesn’t always seem to say the right thing. Whether it is because he is protecting the player group, or running a club media line, what Ferguson says doesn’t always line up with reality. For example, during the club’s poor run, he felt the team played no worse than during their excellent period switching to the 4-2-3-1 with Steve McGarry in the hole. Reading some of his interviews, and looking at performances like the one against Gold Coast on the weekend, and you wonder if his motivational skills are also in question.
His youth policy appears to be “use as a last resort”. People at the club, including CEO Paul Kelly and Ferguson himself, have reiterated that Glory have no problem with using young players – so long as they are ready. They would argue that Josh Risdon is a perfect example of this – a young bloke who could do the job and has thus kept his spot in the team while regular right back Scott Neville has been injured. However, it should not be forgotten that before Risdon was the next big thing at Glory, they had tried to use a player who had not played regular football in months instead – Trent McLenahan was brought in as injury cover but then mysteriously went off the radar after a few games. Meanwhile, names like Makarounas, Amphlett, and Makeche have been given little or no game time despite positive reports coming out of their youth team games. In the case of the latter, he finally got his chance against Gold Coast – but frankly it appears that was only because there weren’t enough senior squad members left to fill the bench. While I firmly believe that Tony Sage is doing the wrong thing by threatening to not field a youth team next season, at least it will align with the current Perth youth strategy...After all, why have kids if you don’t use them?
Ferguson then deserves to be congratulated on a job well done securing a home final – but signing him up for a multi-year deal on the back of this season could only spell disaster for the A-League’s WA side.
There are enough doubts left about his ability, that when combined with what seems to be a much smaller playing budget next year, leaves a lot of questions about whether he is the man to take Glory to the top four on a regular basis – not just one season.
But given Tony Sage seems to be intent on saving money next year whilst waiting for a new TV deal to save his hip pocket (that is, when he’s not threatening to walk away) maybe planning for the future doesn’t rank highly on the list of priorities in Perth at the moment anyway.