Copyright Getty Images
GRAHAM ARNOLD...Cut-throat business
Central Coast Mariners boss Graham Arnold says he feels for axed coach Miron Bleiberg and the embattled players of Gold Coast United.
But he and the table-topping Mariners will refuse to show them any mercy when the two sides lock horns at Skilled Park tonight.
The match will be United's first since the club was entangled in unprecedented off-field drama, following maverick owner Clive Palmer's sanctimonious split with the affable Israeli and his subsequent war of words with FFA.
Bleiberg's former assistant, Mike Mulvey, has been tasked with steering the Gold Coast ship for the remainder of the season, starting with the first of two consecutive home matches.
But given he'll be taking an injury hit and emotionally shaking squad into the fixture against one of the most dominant sides of the past two seasons, the odds are firmly stacked against him.
It's a situation Arnold doesn't envy one iota, given his knowledge of the dog-eat-dog world of management in professional football.
"It must be tough for the club at the moment," Arnold told Sportal. "As a coach, I sympathise with Miron. I feel sorry for any coach who gets the sack, because it's a hard gig.
"When there are only nine top jobs in Australia outside of the national team, it's quite cut-throat, and Mike has got an opportunity now.
"He's come through the system and done his hard yards and he's got a chance and I'm sure he'll take it with both hands. Every time I have seen his teams play they're very well organized and structured."
Arnold will check his kind words for Mulvey at the door when it comes to tonight's match, however, despite the complexity of the Gold Coast crisis and what it means for Australian football.
"We're up here to do a job," he said. "We've got ourselves in a good position and there is definitely no complacency in the dressing room."
Bottom-placed Gold Coast will be without up to 11 key senior players, meaning another youthful and inexperienced starting line-up is all but assured.
That could mean another 90 minutes for the likes of cameo captain Mitch Cooper, the 17-year-old who was caught in the crossfire between charismatic Bleiberg and mining tycoon Palmer.
Though usual skipper Michael Thwaite and livewire forward Maceo Rigters will both return, bookmakers have shunned the Glitter Strip club in the expectation that the turmoil of the past week will be too much for the players to handle.
But Arnold is concerned with what United may be capable of in the face of adversity.
"People are going to be playing for their livelihood," he said.
"When you look at some of the good young kids that Gold Coast have, you've now got a Socceroo there in Michael Thwaite.
"The experienced players they've got are top notch, and the kids are top notch. Kids add energy, enthusiasm, and if you have the right senior players around them to guide them and give them confidence, it's crucial.
"I'm a big believer in Australian youth, but you know that kids are going to make mistakes. How they learn from the mistakes is the key thing."