Last weekend’s National Youth League (NYL) decider featuring Western Sydney Wanderers and Melbourne City had a distinctly Hellenic flavour with both teams featuring Greek Australian coaches and players.
Western Sydney were led by Arthur Diles who guided them to their maiden NYL crown after defeating Joe Palatsides’ Melbourne City, 3-1 after extra time. Wanderers featured three Greek Australians in their NYL team throughout their 2017-18 championship-winning campaign including captain Tass Mourdoukoutas, Kostas Grozos, and Jonathan Aspropotamitis.
Speaking to Neos Kosmos after the grand final win, a delighted Diles said the coaching milestone was a pleasing moment in his career.
“I think it’s fantastic and it’s something all Greek Australians should be proud of,” says the 35-year-old. “I met Joe for the first time on Saturday. I have full respect for Melbourne City. This was their third final in four years and they have a great group of players and were very well coached. It made it a little bit more rewarding and special to beat a team and a club that has been in this position many times before.”
This is Diles’ third year with the Western Sydney Wanderers youth team set up. His first season saw him in charge of the U-18 team, the following year he graduated to the U-20s and then at the start of this campaign, he became head coach of the NYL side. Many of Diles’ players have been selected for the Young Socceroos including Mourdoukoutas and Grozos and he believes the young duo have the talent to make the next step.
“Kostas and Tass have been at the academy from day one and started with the U-18s,” he says.
“Both have been involved with the first team, with Tass making his senior team debut and Kostas on the bench and you have also seen them in the Young Socceroos. They are good players with huge potential and I think they both have a bright future like a lot of others at our academy.”
Prior to Diles becoming a coach, he had a promising playing career that saw him rise through the ranks of Sydney Olympic’s youth team, however, he ended his playing career at the age of 25. Diles points to a combination of factors to explain why he ended his time on the field at a premature age; including his senior career coinciding with the decline of the NSL and an opportunity in Europe being scuppered due to the club going bankrupt.
But the setback didn’t faze the young coach and the change in course has proved to be successful. First it led to Diles taking on the Head Coaching role at the New South Wales Institute of Sport U-14 boys team. That then opened an opportunity to become the technical director of Sydney Olympic and it has now brought him to his current role with the Wanderers.
Diles says not having the playing career he wanted focused him as a coach and gave him the drive to succeed – and heading overseas to learn from the best was the most crucial aspect.
“There is not enough coach education in the country and resources for coaches,” he says.
“Which is why over the last ten years I have been spending between three to four weeks a year in Europe doing my own coaching education which has been a costly exercise.
“It includes spending three weeks a year in Real Madrid where I’ve been going for the last five years, which is great. I have a good relationship with them and they allow me to go to their academy and watch every team from the U-10s to the Castilla (Real Madrid’s B team).
“For me that kind of education and access is priceless and that is why I invest my own money and time each year to go there.”
While the majority of Diles’ overseas sojourns have been in Spain, his parents’ homeland of Greece has also been a major influence in building his coaching education.
“I have really good friendships and relationships with current coaches, players and technical directors and scouts in Greece,” he says.
“A lot of people don’t really regard Greek football, but their youth development and quality of their young players is excellent. Their league is also very strong. That is why I go every year to increase my coaching education. I stop off for a week to watch my beloved AEK and watch their training sessions.
“I can also pick up the phone tomorrow and ring Marinos Ouzounidis coach of Panathinaikos. I can ring Ilija Ivić, the ex-player of AEK and the club’s current technical director. Even though I am an AEK fan I can also watch Panathinaikos’ first grade training because a friend of mine is the coach and assistant coach.”
Diles says being able to travel to Europe and meet people who have succeeded in the game and get ideas has helped develop him into the coach he is today.
“First and foremost, it’s opened my mind to different methods,” he said.
“Obviously philosophies can differ at every club and every country. But since the Wanderers opened up their youth academy from day one, the academy has to follow the first team. The beauty of it was that while the club told me this is how the team must play, they also told me that I was the one that had to bring that to life. It helped that I had a little bit of experience learning different methods and ways of how to coach and train teams in Europe. So, I put my own thoughts and ideas that I learnt along the way and I introduced them within the club structure and I went with it.”
It’s not surprising to hear that Diles wants to follow in the footsteps of former Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou and forge a coaching career in Australia and overseas.
“This is only the beginning of my journey,” he says.
“When you are a footballer you start playing at 10 years old and it takes you about 10-15 years to get a professional contract. So, that is no different for a coach. I’ve had 10 years’ experience already but I’m only 35 years old. So, in time I want to be a professional coach whether that is here in the A-League, as an assistant coach or a head coach overseas in Asia or Europe. That is my goal.”
Diles says that through his hardships as a player he has one piece of advice that he gives to his players that he also follows himself.
“Football is a sport where you get slapped more than you get pats on the back,” he says.
“So, if you are not willing to be strong enough to overcome that then it’s not for you. But the few highs you do get exceed the lows that you face.
“It’s a great feeling winning the grand final but now the NPL season begins in less than four weeks, and my attention turns immediately to that. That means we can’t just sit here and celebrate, we have to plan ahead. There are other goals we want to achieve and other successes we need to match.”