The local pro returning to captain his hometown club after an illustrious career overseas. Hanging up his boots to learn his trade as a coach in the youth ranks before stepping up to lead the side to ‘Glory’ from the dugout. The story almost writes itself.
Unfortunately for Perth born Richard Garcia, the universe hadn’t read the script.
Handed the reins at the Glory under difficult circumstances, the former Glory captain was thrown in at the deep end.
At times it looked like he might sink, rather than swim, but a late-season run of form saw his Perth Glory team go on a run of great results, narrowly missing out on finals football.
Having successfully navigated the stormy seas of a tough first season in management, Garcia joined Kick360 to reflect on a difficult year and outline his ambitions for the Glory going forward.
“Challenging.” is the word the former Premier League attacker chooses to sum up his debut campaign.
“[We] had a lot of challenges to begin with, obviously Covid hit, taking over after that lay off, there were issues with players and standing downs and things like that, it was a tough situation to come in to.
“The first thing we had to do was repair the link between the players and the club and make sure we had the players that were focused and willing to play for the club this season. That was a massive challenge.
“it was almost like I had to hit the ground running and try and get a staff in place because staff had left, it was very challenging first few months.”
Having headed up the academy and worked as an assistant under Tony Popovic, Garcia’s appointment represented more of an evolution rather than revolution, his presence one of the few constants in a dramatic off-season.
But with injury crises and player turnover, as well as global pandemic and off-field distractions to deal with, the new role presented a new series of challenges.
“There were a lot of things going on in the background that I had to pay attention to and make sure we got right, that sort of took away from the football. That was the biggest learning curve.”
For the rookie coach, those challenges ensured fans only caught brief sightings of his vision for Perth Glory.
“We’ve had glimpses of what I want to play in different patches of the year.
“We started off really attacking, and that’s the kind of football I like to play. We scored a lot of goals but we were conceding a lot of goals, so there were glimpses of what we wanted to achieve.
“The team coped quite well and it suited some of our senior players a little bit better, but come mid-season we changed formation and that suited some of the younger elements a little bit more.
“For me, the back end of the season showed a little bit more of the structure and how we were wanting to play, and I think there’s those elements going forward.
“For me we want to play good, attractive football that I wanna go and watch. That’s the kind of football I want to play.”
Garcia inherited a squad dotted with experienced professionals. Veteran stars like Diego Castro, Liam Reddy and Andy Keogh were once his peers, playing alongside their former skipper in the iconic purple jersey.
Transitioning from a former team mate to head coach was not without its challenges, as the mid-season removal on Neil Kilkenny alluded to.
But for Garcia and the club, getting these experienced heads on board with their vision was integral for both short and long term success.
“I think there’s always that element [as a young coach]. But I don’t think it’s been a huge problem, it’s more the fact that I’ve tried to work those guys around to my way of thinking and the way we want the club to head, our vision of where we see the club going, and they’ve got to be on board with that.
“That’s the biggest thing. We want guys who want to be at the club, they want to be on board with where we want to take the club, and the direction we are headed. We want to build for the future and we want to build sustained success. That’s something these guys [have had] to buy in to. And we want that, we want them to buy in to it and come along that journey with us.
“Those senior guys always have an important role when you are trying to rebuild and get a few younger guys in the squad. We’ve got to make sure they’re in the right mindset and they are the right people to do that.”
That developing mindset played a key role in the last season charge for the finals, and provided Garcia with some of the proudest moments of his early managerial career.
“The games where we’ve dug in [were a highlight]. They might not be the games where we’ve won 5 – 0 but the ones where you can see the guys are working hard for each other and that the team has played for each other. The back end of the season you could see we really started to believe and work hard for each other, and that’s testament to them and their mindset.
“We want to create a group that want to work hard for each other and go to battle with each other and that’s something that’s very important to myself, the club and the coaching staff.”
Mentality and mindset are clearly pivotal for Garcia’s vision for the future, but it is something he knows will take time.
“We’ve gotta structure things in the right manner. If you look at any sport, rebuilds and sustained success don’t happen over night. You can look at Man City, who’ve got all the money in the world, did they win anything in the first years?
“It takes time to restructure, regroup and change the way things have been done, and the way people think. And it probably takes a little more time in a salary capped league, in a league where we have to be patient with younger guys. We can’t go out and spend 200 million on players.
“As fans it becomes hard sometimes to have that patience, but most good thing are built over time. We want to build something that when we do reach those heights, we stay there and become a top side.”
At times this season, the fans certainly did lose patience with the manager, but he knows it comes with the territory.
“For me, you have to take that as a manager, like you take it in your playing days. You have to have a little bit of a thick skin.
“Fans are allowed to have their opinion, but, I would say when you build something special and it’s lasting, you see the rewards. That’s something we are aiming to do.
“We are trying to head in a different direction than just the instant success.
“Being from Perth, I don’t want to see the club have success and then two years later just drop right out. I want us to be up there and constantly fighting for first and second spot, and that’s something we are trying to build through sustained players and sustained success.”
Images Supplied: Perth Glory