Milicic should leave Macarthur with his head held high

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Macarthur FC have announced the departure of head coach, Ante Milicic come the end of the current A-League Men season.

The club’s inaugural head coach will remain in charge for Macarthur’s two upcoming ALM fixtures, before vacating his role after two seasons at the helm.

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“It has been a great honour to be the first-ever Head Coach of Macarthur FC,” Milicic said via the club’s website.

“I leave with mixed emotions, but for family reasons I will be returning to Croatia. I will remain a great supporter of the Bulls forever.”

At no stage was the proposition of being Macarthur’s first head coach bathed in glamour. To sign that contract was to synonymously enlist oneself in a steep, uphill battle from day one.

A third Sydney team based just half an hour from Western Sydney Wanderers was a tough sell. Add to this that they were manufactured from scratch, not a National Premier League club with an established personality pumped up with funding to lift them to ALM standards.

Even two seasons down the track, the accumulative voice of the football public is persistently icy.

“Fold the whole lot, (it) should have been Wollongong anyway,” said one reply to the A-Leagues’ Twitter announcement of Milicic’s departure.

“Does anyone really give a sh*t,” read another.

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In the post-match press conference following his side’s defeat to Melbourne Victory, just days before he would announce his departure, Milicic admitted the difficulties of being Macarthur’s first manager.

“It’s been challenging for everyone,” he said.

“You have to understand coming in at this stage (as a new club) with COVID and up against Sydney FC and the Wanderers, it’s not an easy market.”

The challenges he would face transcended that of attracting supporters and making a large brand of a small football club.

Even just this season, an enforced tear-down rebuild of his squad preceded an incessant tidal wave of injuries. Milicic has been hurled into the deep end relentlessly since his appointment with the Bulls but he has swum tenaciously.

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In his first season, the former Socceroos centre-forward led Macarthur to a sixth-placed finish, beating the Wanderers – their newest and closest rivals – to a spot in the finals places. Matt Derbyshire’s perpetual flow of goals at one end linked arms with Adam Federici’s dogged denial of shots at the other. Flourishes from Beñat Etxebarria and the presence of Mark Milligan emboldened the Bulls’ team sheet. They lost out in the semi-final to eventual champions, Melbourne City.

That impressive start, the solid, exciting foundation upon which Macarthur would surge toward the upper echelon of A-League Men football, was demolished.

A whopping 14 of their finest personnel were gone. Eight players that featured on the first team sheet of last season had retired or moved, some of the biggest names that departed did so with no prior warning. Milicic did not just build Macarthur’s football team from the ground up, he did it twice.

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Milicic’s swift dealings in the off-season have gone one of two ways.

In the case of the two strikers he brought in, Tomi Juric and Al Hassan Toure, father football has frowned upon them since the start of the campaign. Juric is yet to total 100 minutes of football this season. Toure, whilst slightly more fortunate, has still only totalled five starts.

Macarthur’s plague of injuries reached every new arrival with varying levels of severity, but those who have managed to shake their setbacks have highlighted the stellar business Milicic did in pre-season.

Star signing and succeeding skipper Ulises Dávila has been a revelation. He is Macarthur’s top goalscorer with seven. A player of such class so easily detected in the A-League Men, he has been as much a joy to watch as he has been an absolute necessity to the Macarthur machine. His league-leading 68 times fouled is a cheeky and charming indicator of his fleet-footed excellence.

Filip Kurto appeared only eight times for Western United last season, conceding an unflattering 13 goals. Milicic scrambled to pick him up following the shock retirement of Federici. Despite what his recent numbers may have suggested, the Polish goalkeeper has been one of the Bulls’ most consistent performers. He has made the third-most saves (86) across the entire division.

Craig Noone and Daniel De Silva have raked in the equal-most assists for the club with four each. Mid-season arrival, Apostolos Giannou has added three important goals, taking him to fourth in the club rankings since he signed in January.

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At the time of their inception, there was no foreseeing where Macarthur’s formative years would take them. A small club with a small fanbase wriggling its way out of the soil in the shadow of its hefty neighbours.

Whether pragmatically replacing the goals of a bygone talisman or persevering through a barrage of injuries and COVID cases, Milicic has done a fine job in his era-defining stint at Campbelltown Stadium.

Other fanbases couldn’t care less, but the cold-braving, black-and-white-wearing, cowbell-ringing mob from Macarthur will recall his time with fond appreciation.

Milicic and his men will fight for a finals place in their penultimate game of the season against Newcastle Jets on May 1.

Feature Image Credit: Macarthur FC

Statistics Sourced from Ultimate A-League and FBref

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Tom Macraehttp://medium.com/@macraetomr23
Communications undergrad at Western Sydney University covering Macarthur FC in the 2021/22 season. Newcastle United. Jack Grealish fangirl.

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