In a fitting tribute to a long and successful coaching career at Bentleigh Greens, Greens staff and players formed a guard of honour applauding their departing coach John Anastasiadis as he was carried off the park on the shoulders of Greens keeper Ryan Scott and striker Matt Thurtell, following their 2-1 win over a previously unbeaten Avondale FC last Saturday.
Perhaps few would be surprised that Anastasiadis and his team in their last match together managed to create another good memory to go along with many of the memorable moments of success he has shared with the Greens over the eight years he has been at the club, helping to transform it from a small suburban club into one of the best known NPL clubs in the country.
Speaking to Neos Kosmos about his feelings on his final match in charge, Anastasiadis said, “It was obviously a mixture of feelings of happiness and sadness, no doubt. I was very happy the boys won on the day and actually played quite well and we ended up second after the first half of the season, which has been a fantastic result for us. But obviously it was my last game after eight years with the club. There was a tinge of sadness there…So I just spoke to the boys very briefly after the game. I relayed a few messages to them going forward and that’s it. We move on, they’ll move on and hopefully they’ll be up there come finals time, which I believe they will be. And I’ll happily keep a close eye on them.”
It’s been a remarkably long and fruitful association between Anastasiadis and Bentleigh Greens, yielding two NPL Championships, an NPL Premiership, two Dockerty Cups and an FFA Cup record unrivalled amongst NPL clubs around Australia.
Long serving Bentleigh Greens president Con Bios has little hesitation in saying “Johnny A was the best coach, not only for the club, but in the whole of the NPL. He works very hard for success, both for himself and for the club too. He’s always there, never takes a day off. It doesn’t matter that the NPL isn’t fully professional. Johnny A works like a professional.”
Bios said that before the current season started, he had calls from players all over Australia wanting to come and join the Greens. When he asked those players why they wanted to come to the Greens, a common response was, “Bentleigh Greens, the whole of Australia knows the club because of Johnny A. Players want to come to play under Johnny A’s coaching. It’s unbelievable.”
Bios said that although he was upset that Anastasiadis decided to depart the club when offered an assistant coaching role at new A-League club Western United, “ I can understand, he wants to achieve something bigger … I never had any problem with Johnny. If this didn’t happen (moving to the A-League), he could stay here not just for another eight years but until he retires, because he’s done a fantastic job. I don’t know any other coaches that can do what Johnny A’s done. I’m going to miss it. I can tell him ‘All the best’. One day I believe he’ll be a senior coach in the A-League.”
When asked to reflect on why the partnership between he and the Greens worked so well, Anastasiadis said, “I think from the first moment I arrived there, we put some things there in relation to the culture of the club, culture of the team. What my beliefs were and how I go about relaying them to the whole club, and the playing group. The philosophy and the style of play – and they all bought into that which is great. When you’ve got people supporting you on that, and you have stability in the club, you’ll get success. And that’s what we did. So all these years there was excellent communication between all parties, coaching staff and also committee and board members. It was very open. So when you have that trust in everyone and everyone trusts each other, things go well. So we’re all really one family”.
Even when Anastasiadis faced what some might call a seven year itch, at the end of last season, when one of his former flames South Melbourne appeared on the scene with a tempting offer to lure the coach away from Kingston Heath to Lakeside, Anastasiadis ultimately decided to resist South’s offer and stay with the Greens.
“I felt I had more to give to Bentleigh. There was more work to be done. So that was one of the main reasons. I just felt comfortable there to be honest,” he said.
“South Melbourne was going to be another project and it was going to be a tough one. But South Melbourne people were sensational towards me. They treated me with utmost respect and I sincerely thank them for it. But in hindsight, when you look at it, if I’d gone there and started something, it probably would’ve ended quickly because I’ve been recruited to the Western United group. So things happen for a reason I presume. So it wasn’t so bad for South Melbourne in the long term.”
Anastasiadis begins his new job as Western United assistant coach in July when the A-League pre-season begins. He doesn’t believe there’ll be too many adjustments to make transitioning from his job as senior coach to assistant coach, and he’s unfazed by the added pressures that come with coaching in the A-League.
“I believe the assistant’s role in the A-League is like a head coach in the NPL anyway. There’ll be more sessions because obviously there’s a lot more training. It’s a full-time job, but in general the sessions will be more or less the same, but just a bit more on a professional basis …There’ll be a lot more scrutiny no doubt about it. A lot more pressure to perform, and that comes with the job. But life today is full of pressure. What each and every person goes through. It’s just a job and we’ve got to do it the best we can. And that’s all we can do.”
Anastasiadis says he’s looking forward to working in a professional environment as a coach.
“I’ve done it as a player. As a coach it’ll be interesting. A lot more responsibility no doubt. Looking forward to working with the coaches involved and learning from them.”