Since retiring from football three years ago I’ve been doing a lot of travelling around the world, watching games, taking training sessions and meeting new people in football.
What I hear from many coaches or their agents who talk to me about coaching in Australia is, "Australia is a beautiful place" , "Wow, the season is only six months long", and "How many dollars is it possible to squeeze out of the clubs?".
There are exceptions, coaches who don’t care about the money, how long a season runs or which country they will be living in - they just want to coach again - get a foot in the door, do what they love, and would sign a month-to-month agreement if it meant coaching again. The truth is the market is flooded with coaches.
This tells a story that clubs here do have and should always have the upper hand in negotiations, but ultimately comes down to whether or not they have the know-how to make the most of it.
In sport it’s important to feel pressure – pressure to perform, pressure to deliver results. Handing out expensive, long-term contracts in Australia is counter-productive in motivating coaches or even players to keep performing at a high level - nor is it good business.
Long-term contracts offer peace of mind, but at the same time have the potential to relax the mind and take away the cutting edge needed to perform at the highest level.
The only exception I would make would be for coaches and players who have not only proven themselves on the pitch over a certain period of time, but have shown their true colours – their character.
The ones that don’t need motivation, the ones that have in-built motivation, constant hunger to succeed, irrespective of any contract situation they find themselves in. That’s what defines great management – knowing who these coaches and players are and duly rewarding them.
Having an expensive coach on a long-term contract at a club that will cost you big bucks to let go of when performances and results are bad could lead to a situation where he will be held onto longer. Even when management would love to give him the hook immediately, the issue with a possible expensive payout has the potential to delay the inevitable.
Fans pay an admission price for every game, which means they must be offered the best every game – and that includes having a coach at the helm the club truly believes in.
I was horrified watching the Adelaide v Sydney game that FC won 2-1 at Hindmarsh Stadium a couple of months ago. I saw huge flaws that led me to believe Adelaide United were a ticking time-bomb.
A week later Brisbane put seven past them, a month-and-a-half later Coolen was gone, demoted to the most expensive youth coach in Australian history. He knocked that back, so now it’s one for the lawyers to grapple with.
Towards the end of my career I played in Austria for a year, a football country similar to Australia that has to be careful to avoid throwing money out of the window.
The club I was at paid the coach to get the best out of the team - if he didn’t - they would get someone else in and the coach would get a three month payout on his way to the exit door. It was a ruthless philosophy, but in the club's best interests.
It’s management's responsibility to keep clubs alive by making sensible business decisions as well as getting rid of a coach immediately when they feel he is not delivering. A coach will never be more important than any club - they always come and go.
What I find fascinating at the moment is the John van ’t Schip situation. The Dutchman is on a good deal at Melbourne Heart and now in the last year of his contract. He struggled last season with results, but has done well so far this season and of course if he continues in this fashion more than warrants a new deal.
The question is, what kind of numbers will be on the table? Are the same sustainable? Will it be more than it is now? What length contract?
Rini Coolen had a good season last year and was given a four-year deal. He told the decision-makers in Adelaide that he had a four-year plan and it seems Adelaide United found that plan so fascinating that they must have forgotten about football being a week-to-week event.
I’ve been around the game for a long time and taking advantage of contract negotiations when things are going well for a player or a coach is standard procedure. But if I was sitting in that room when Coolen walked in and went on about a four-year plan after one good season I would have fallen to pieces with laughter.
The message after one good year should be: "Show you can be successful again, build on what you’ve built, show us who you really are – as a coach and a person - then we can look at rewarding you with something long term".
John van ’t Schip is currently mirroring the perfect example of a coach. He’s getting results, demanding and getting good football and his media presence is excellent as well - a factor hugely important in the game today.
Not only that, he is meeting the demands expected (and I can only speak for myself here) of a foreign coach here in the A-League - a coach that comes here, gets results, and offers something we don’t have .
But short-term success means nothing if you can’t back it up - Coolen couldn’t. The signs are good for John van’t Schip, but only time will tell if he can.