When Alen Stajcic was mercilessly sacked as Matildas boss in January this year, the vast majority in Australian football – fans and journalists alike – were left stunned.
That shock was amplified by the relative proximity to the Women’s World Cup in France which, as of 24 April, is just under two months away.
The reasons FFA removed Stajcic from his position – widely seen as being just about untouchable with the Matildas sitting sixth in the world – have become a point of infamy.
They need little going over, but for forgetful types, “toxic” was one of the stronger words among a whole collection used to describe the poor culture Stajcic supposedly oversaw.
The saga prompted widespread chatter and often saw Stajcic’s very character placed directly in the firing line. As a result, he was fearful he may never land another job in football again.
But while Stajcic looked to regroup, an opportunity came calling at Central Coast Mariners – down on their luck themselves – following former boss Mike Mulvey’s sacking.
Up stepped the 45-year-old, who opted to take on the rather daunting task of making something of what some might describe as a train-wreck of a season.
That in itself was a surprise considering legalities still being worked out behind the scenes by Stajcic’s legal team, alongside his limited experience in managing professional men’s teams.
Since Round 22, the improvement in the Mariners has been steady but noteworthy. They have had two wins and three losses, including a first-up 3-2 F3 Derby win over Newcastle Jets.
Ahead of their final match of the season against Melbourne City on Friday night – an away game – Stajcic reflected on his five games in charge.
“It’s been good for me and the club in a similar way … personally, I was in the same spot they were in, we were both in a little bit of a trough and we were down on our knees,” he recounted on Wednesday’s Daily Football Show.
“But it’s about how you come back from that and refocus and regroup and want to stand up and fight.
“We were both in similar predicaments where we weren’t in places we wanted to be.
“Whether it’s through fault of your own or not, you want to stand up and fight and I think the club’s shown that and I will always show that.
“That’s the resilience we need to show as a group and as a club and as a team and that’s the way to move forward.
“Things aren’t ever going to be perfect in life and especially in football. The more you bounce back, the better off you’re going to be in life.
“Hopefully we can keep fighting and building throughout the offseason and the club can be in a position to have a good season next year.”
Regardless of the result on Friday, the Mariners will win the Wooden Spoon for a second-straight season, with 16 the maximum number of points they can finish with.
Reports have circled in the past week that Stajcic will be named as Central Coast’s full time boss once the home and away season has wrapped up.
Stajcic refused to say if he would be at the helm next season, but hopes the groundwork he has laid will pay dividends in what presents itself as a hugely important 2019-20 season for the Mariners, whether he is in charge or not.
“I was actually pleasantly surprised by the whole environment, not just the football team, the whole club, from the CEO down to the office staff and the people around the training ground,” he added.
“The players as well, there was a lot more optimism and hope and really, a willingness to be united and put the club football.
“I guess you get this more at a community club than at a big-time club like a Sydney FC or a Melbourne Victory.
“Everyone is just hoping and praying and doing every little bit they can to try and make the club successful and I really got that community feel.
“I saw how hard everyone worked and again, that goes right from the top down from the bottom and that was really eye-opening.
“We’ve got to get things right on the football pitch and I think people will see a lot of encouraging signs if we can get that part right.”