Ex-Futsal boys primed to make their mark in the new A-League season
Central Coast’s starlets Tom Rogic and Bernie Ibini are ready to light up the A-League after coming back bigger and stronger than last season, Mariners boss Graham Arnold has warned.
Rogic and Ibini wowed the crowds with their attacking talents at times last campaign but for different reasons, their bodies held them back from realising their full potential.
Rogic, a former futsal star who joined Central Coast mid-season after a successful tilt at Nike’s Chance scouting program, displayed mesmerising technique in the No.10 role but as a teenager who had never played professional football, he drifted out of games in patches and often struggled to see out the full 90 minutes.
Arnold said his 19-year-old playmaker is now reaping the benefits of a first full pre-season designed by Mariners’ fitness guru Andrew Clark.
“Tommy Rogic is special,” Arnold told au.fourfourtwo.com. “I think he showed last year in spurts how good he can be, but the only thing missing was the physical side of it.
“He was an indoor footballer, the field was too big for him. We’ve done a lot of strength on him in the last four weeks and a lot of power work on his legs.
“He’s looking great. We’re expecting a big season from him now that Musti (Amini) has gone. I’m sure the kid will handle it.”
Meanwhile, Arnold revealed that a huge growth spurt limited Ibini’s game time last season but that he too is now primed to play his best football this year.
“Bernie has grown about three inches,” said Arnold. “We had problems last year with Bernie where people were probably thinking why wasn’t I playing him.
“He’s still growing. He had knee pain and hip pain and those sorts of things. He’s come back looking fantastic.”
Arnold will again rely heavily on young players as the Mariners look to defend their Premiership but the former Socceroos coach said that’s no reason expectations should be lowered for his team.
“Our young guys are a year older,” he said. “For me Bernie is a first team player. Last year was more of a learning season but this year it’s stepping up.
“Trent Sainsbury, Zach Anderson, Tommy Rogic, guys like that, you call them kids but they’re excellent players.
“You don’t set the standards low, you set the standards high and challenge them to get the maximum out of them you can. “
At the more experienced end of the spectrum, Arnold is yet to decide on a new captain after losing club stalwart Alex Wilkinson to Jeonbuk in the K-League.
He added: “Let’s make no mistake, Wilko’s a huge loss.
“I do think we have that covered with Patrick (Zwaanswijk), (John) Hutchinson, Daniel McBreen, and that’s why I went for Mile Sterjovski to give some experience.
“In the dressing room I’ve worked a lot with them on leadership and how to become good leaders and the influence they can have on the younger boys.
“We don’t really have one captain. Alex was captain because he was captain for a long time before I got here, but I rely a lot on all the senior players to carry out the instructions.”