United, Alosi and the intertwining journey they are on.

Despite being the defending champions of the A-League Men, Western United’s existence as a footballing entity can still be said to be a work in progress. Silverware on the park is one thing, but there’s so much more that goes into transitioning from an idea to something resembling a club on and off the field. And the same principles apply to coaching. It’s one thing to do the courses, get your badges and land a job, but it’s another thing to accomplish the goals that one has set out for oneself, and find a style and approach that reflects your values as a coach and person. 

John Aloisi is at his own stage in this progression and in order to achieve the goals he has set for himself, he is eventually going to need to leave not just United, but also the A-Leagues to achieve. But what became readily apparent during the announcement that he would be sticking around for a while yet on Thursday was that while both he and his employer have places they want to go, they really need the other to succeed to get there. 

United announced that they had locked in their championship-winning coach to a two-year extension on Thursday morning, the Socceroos’ legend now contracted to lead its men’s program to at least the end of the 2024-25 season. 

Emerging from a competitive and not unanimous process to replace Marko Rudan at the helm of the side from Melbourne’s west ahead of the 2021-22 campaign, Aloisi defied almost all expectations by leading them to a maiden ALM title in his first season; riding a wave of 1-0 wins to a third-place finish and then upsetting Melbourne City in the grand final. 

Western United boss John Aloisi has signed a two-year extension with the A-League Men club
Image Credit: Western United

Results, it can’t be pretended otherwise, have fallen off significantly in year two, United was ninth on the ALM table at the time of Aloisi’s extension and fielding the statistically most porous defence in the league, but according to United’s general manager of football Mal Impiombato, there was never any doubt as to who was best suited to lead the ALM program forward. 

“For us, from a football perspective, John was always the answer for our football club,” he said. “Because the most important thing for us is setting the foundations of the place and bringing in the right individuals that are going to drive the values and behaviours that are important to our club. 

“John came along last season and we wanted to see if he was the right person for our club. And he’s shown in a really short period of time that he was the right person for our club. 

“Results will be up and down. They won’t come every week. But the foundation in place is the most important thing. And we’ve got a coach here, someone that will continue to drive the values that are important to our club, so it was a very easy decision for us to renew John and extend his contract. 

“We know that we’re all aligned with respect to the journey that we’re on and John is going to be the right person to drive us through that journey.”

Aloisi had joked when asked about his contract after last season’s grand final that the club needed to “show me the money”, the result of a midweek viewing of the film Jerry Maguire, but clarified on Thursday that if he was going to be coaching in the ALM next season, it was only ever going to be with United. 

“It was always about what the club is here for,” Aloisi said. “We’ve been tested this season. I’ve said all along that this will show what kind of club we want to be. It’s when you are going through those difficult challenges, how the culture doesn’t waver and how the belief in the club doesn’t waver and how the support is still there. I saw it this season. 

“So far, we’ve had a difficult time on the field and certain things off the field haven’t gone quite to plan but that’s part of our journey as a football club, that will make us stronger as a football club. I want to be part of the growth of the football club. 

“That was the main thing behind me wanting to stay on. I never had any thoughts about going to another A-Leagues side. It was always about if this was going to be the right club moving forward, and I believe it is. And we want continued success.”

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Previously the boss of Melbourne Heart and Brisbane Roar, Aloisi’s appointment in Tarneit was, at the time, not seen as the most exciting of moves. The 47-year-old was perceived as being a known, recycled quantity, one whose appointment was a risk-averse and uninspiring decision by the club’s board, especially in comparison to other candidates such as former Central Coast Mariners boss Alen Stajcic. 

Having spent the years since his exit from the Roar working as a pundit, waiting for another opportunity, he himself entered the role on what was likely his final opportunity to prove himself as a senior coach. Not many figures in football get a second chance, let alone a third, and a failure to find his footing in Tarneit almost certainly would have seen him strike out in his ambitions. 

But coaching was something he had committed to. Open heart surgery in 2019 had given him a chance to reflect on his ambitions and what he wanted to achieve in life. And when he asked if he would be physically able to coach again one of his main questions going in and coming out of that experience, he knew this was something that was important to him. 

Then came the ultimate form of reputational rehabilitation arrived in the form of silverware. All of a sudden, questions were being asked if Aloisi would be tapped as the next Socceroos boss, at least until Graham Arnold wrote his own check by guiding them to the round of 16 in Qatar, and where he might go next. This season’s struggles have served to cool that excitement, but Aloisi hasn’t forgotten his goals. 

“The first goal is winning [against Melbourne Victory] on Monday,” he said. “A goal that I’ve had is making sure that we get sustained success here, that’s important for us. That’s definitely a short-term goal for now. 

“Eventually, I talked about going overseas. I won’t say when that will be. They’ve got me for another two years, they might have me for another ten. I don’t know. Depending on how the situation evolves with the football club. If it’s the right fit for everyone. 

“I’ve mentioned many times that I’d love to coach the Socceroos one day. When will that be? Hopefully, I get an opportunity one day. [Also] coaching overseas. Ange has shown the way and other coaches have shown the way that you can get to the level that you believe you can get to. 

“And that started here in the A-League. With Ange, Kevin Muscat, and Graham Arnold, they had success here in the A-League.”

United has goals too. Not just goals, but commitments made that as long as they remain unfilled, mean that they can never be the club they have set out to be and were promised to the rest of Australian football when it was granted a licence to enter the A-Leagues. 

Aloisi’s contract means that the ALM program is locked in. An A-League Women program under Mark Torcaso looks set to play finals in its first season. An academy program is in place and its senior NPL program just won promotion to NPL2 in Victoria. A partnership with Calder United means that it already has a girl’s pathway that leads the way. It is constructing a training base in Tarneit that it will move into and stage games in from next season. 

But there’s a green and black elephant in the room. Something that will forever cloud any achievement of United until it’s addressed. The stadium that was promised. The stadium that will forever hang like a lodestone around the club’s neck until it’s opened.

“The number one priority for this club is to get to the west,” CEO Chris Pehlivanis said. “Build that home and build a fortress and something that the whole of the west can be proud of. 

“A lot of work is going on in the background, and I know that there will be some exciting announcements in the near future. We can’t wait to get to the west and what’s coming in the next 12 to 24 months. 

“That’s why securing people like John for the next 24 months, with our clear vision internally, was critical for that.”

But for all the talk of identity and the west, the stadium also has a real impact on Aloisi’s job. The run of form that coincided with the end of Rudan’s tenure in 2020-21 probably doesn’t happen if United doesn’t resemble a travelling roadshow every time it’s supposed to play a home fixture, where the games are instead effectively turned into road games by the need to travel to Ballarat or Tasmania. Even this season, United doesn’t yet know where it’s last ‘home’ game – a contest it might need to win to play finals – will be played. 

“There are always discussions that I have with the chairman, with Chris and Mal, with the board,” Alosis said. “Because they interview but you also interview them because we need to be aligned. We need to have the same vision, the same goals, and the same ambitions.

“That’s definitely been discussed over a period of time. That was probably why it took so long [to renew] because we were discussing things; because things can move pretty quickly not only in football but also the project that has been happening in the background over a number of months. 

“We had a major setback with COVID, everyone knows about that. So it was just about making sure that everyone was on the same path, we’re aligned. Because I’ve been in previous football clubs where you’re not on the same path, you’re not aligned, and it doesn’t work. 

“That’s the reason why I’m saying here, why I’m excited about it. Because the vision is there from both sides and we can’t wait for the next 24 months.”

Enjoying Joey’s coverage of Australian sport? Your support helps keep it possible.
You’re seeing this advert because this is an unpaid, self-published piece.

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Header Image Credit: Western United

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