The coaching caper: Locals versus imports

Coaches have been in the news and there is a huge debate about locals versus imports right now. So which is better?

It-s been an up-and-down Hyundai A-League season for coaches… and we-re only half-way through it.

Clearly, the success story of the coaching fraternity at this stage of the season is top-of-the-table Mariners boss Graham Arnold – set to coach his 50th A-League match against the Jets in week 15. In his 49 matches so far, Arnie has a W-D-L record of 27-14-8.

To put it another way, if Arnold wins his next match, his all-time A-League record is three-and-a-half wins for every loss; that-s quite impressive.

But others haven-t exactly been setting the world on fire.

The rough rides started when Branko Culina left his post at Newcastle Jets just a few days before season start. Since then Rini Coolen (Adelaide United) and Mehmet Durakovic (Melbourne Victory) have also been replaced.

The dropping of Dutchman Coolen for John Kosmina, and Durakovic for Jim Magilton – an import for a local, and vice-versa, has aroused plenty of discussion about the merits of bringing in a coach from overseas, rather than using a local one.

So what do the stats say about the local coaches and their imported counterparts in the A-League?

Let-s define a local coach as someone born in Australia, or who lived in Australia for a significant period before commencing their first A-League coaching stint; the remaining coaches – those who came to Australia specifically to coach in the A-League – we-ll call imports. For the New Zealand teams replace Australia with New Zealand.

And for our performance indicator let-s use the win/loss percentage, which simply divides the number of wins by the number of losses for all games that coach has been in charge of. (So if a coach has won 11 and lost 10 matches, his win/loss percentage is 11 divided by 10, which equals 1.1 as a ratio, or 110 as a percentage).

Up until the end of week 14, the all-time win/loss percentage for local coaches was 101.8 per cent (1207 games), compared to 92.9 per cent (293 games) for the imports. Clearly the local coaches have performed more successfully when we treat each A-League game equally.

This performance analysis is even more interesting when we drill down even further.

Seperate the local coaches into two groups: those born or raised in Australia from childhood (eg. Arnold, Culina, Durakovic); and overseas-bred coaches (eg. Miron Bleiberg, Ian Ferguson, Ernie Merrick) – those who basically started learning their football in another country, before moving to Australia.

And also separate then break down the imported coaches into two source regions: those from the UK, and those from mainland Europe. Imported coaches, of which Magilton is the twelfth in the A-League – have only come from Europe.

In terms of these four categories, it-s the locally born or raised coaches that clearly lead the way, with a win/loss percentage of 110.0 per cent.

The next most successful group are coaches imported from mainland Europe, with a win/loss figure of 96.3 per cent.

Then we have the overseas-bred local coaches (91.1 per cent), and lastly, coaches imported from the UK (83.9 per cent).

Considering these relative success rates, it-s going to be all eyes on new Victory coach Jim Magilton, recruited from Northern Ireland, who has replaced local Mehmet Durakovic, who initially migrated to Australia as a youngster and has therefore learnt most of his football in this country.

However, the relative success of local born and raised coaches in the A-League so far is in contrast to the National Soccer League (NSL).

The most successful coaches in the NSL, which ran from 1977 to 2004, tended to be those from overseas – either directly recruited from abroad, or who learned a lot about their trade before arriving in Australia.

So let-s assess the top 10 NSL coaches, in terms of highest win/loss percentages, who coached 50 NSL games or more.

Ranked two and one in this list are German Bernd Stange, with a win/loss figure of 245.5 per cent, and South African Mich d-Avray, with a stunning 387.5 per cent. Both Stange (Perth Glory 1998-2001) and d-Avray (Perth Glory 2002-2004) came to Australia from overseas to take on their NSL coaching roles, with d-Avray taking over from Stange after serving as his assistant.

The next eight best-ranked NSL coaches based on the above criteria are Eddie Thomson (win/loss percentage 231.5 per cent), Mirko Bazic (226.3 per cent), Gary Philips (223.1 per cent), Jim Pyrgolios (221.4 per cent), Ange Postecoglou (212.5 per cent), Ferenc Puskas (204.6 per cent), Vedran Rozic (185.7 per cent) and Gerry Chaldi (171.4 per cent).

Like Stange and d-Avray, astute Croatians Bazic (Melbourne Croatia 1993-1996) and Rozic (Sydney Croatia 1984-1989), and legendary Hungarian Puskas (South Melbourne 1989-1992), were recruited from abroad specifically to coach in the NSL.

Scotland-born Thomson (Sydney City and Sydney Olympic, 1980-1989), Greece-born Pyrgolios (South Melbourne 1992-1994) and former Israeli international Gerry Chaldi (Sydney City and West Adelaide, 1977-1980) played extensively overseas before arriving in Australia, although all three lived in Australia for some time before undertaking their NSL coaching roles.

Of these top 10 NSL coaches, only Philips (Sydney Olympic 2001-2003) and Postecoglou (South Melbourne 1996-2000) were born or raised in Australia.

So why are local born and raised coaches more successful now in the A-League than they were in the old NSL?

There are probably several reasons, but a key one is surely the education gained by the current crop of Aussie coaches playing under these great NSL coaches – examples include Arnold playing under Rozic (for six years), Postecoglou under Puskas (three years), and Kosmina under Thomson (eight years).

It-s an education process that continues in the Hyundai A-League.

Follow Andrew Howe-s Aussie football stats updates on Twitter @AndyHowe_statto