On Saturday evening at the Knox Regional Football Centre in Wantirna, State League club Boroondara Carey Eagles completed its meteoric rise from State League 4 to State League 1st division by clinching its third successive State League Championship in emphatic style with a 7-1 win over North Caulfield.
Celebrating with his players on Saturday evening was proud coach Manny Koutroulis, who has been at the helm for all three titles, a feat even more remarkable given he won the first of the three titles in his first season as the Eagles’ senior coach. Winning the latest title with three rounds remaining suggests they won the title race in a canter.
However Koutroulis would say it was an easy season or an easy title to win.
“But I will say that from the outset when I came into pre-season, I said to all the players ‘look, I know some of you have been here in State 4 and State 3, and you’re back here in State 2, and maybe there can be some talk around you about just stabilising this season. But I’m the wrong person to work with there, because I’m here to win the title and I will work very hard to achieve this.’ By me telling them that from the start, they knew they would come in with an ambition, and with a drive and with a purpose. And I think for the psychology of the players that was very important to find themselves in that position. And then early in the season, when the results were positive, the belief just kept growing,” he said.
Despite entering the coaching ranks in his mid 20’s, the 45-year-old has flown under the radar somewhat, serving a lengthy apprenticeship as an assistant coach at various State League clubs including Northcote City, Diamond Valley United, Westgate and Fitzroy City, Whittlesea Stallions and Thomastown.
“From a young age at club level, I made sure I wouldn’t throw myself into a top job. I made sure I spent a long time as a number two,” Koutroulis told Neos Kosmos.
He says that his current coaching job at Boroondarra “has been my first out and out senior job, but I was ready for it, and I think I really believe in myself and the work that I do, because whenever I’m faced with difficulties, I can draw from a number of experiences working next to others, learning what to do and what not to do. So I think that’s helping now having all that preparation”.
A keen observer and student of the game, the experience of working alongside numerous senior coaches has been a valuable one.
“There have been some important people in my life who are also coaches who I have leaned on, seen their work and spent time with,” one such coach is former NPL coach Arthur Pappas, currently Ange Postecoglou’s assistant at Yokohama F Marinos.
“When Arthur was at Oakleigh Cannons and Green Gully, I spent extensive periods with Arthur and seen the preparation and work that he puts in. I’ve been able to gain a lot from that. I too am a coach who values hard work and preparation and also has a keen interest into the psychology of each individual, just like Arthur does. And I think that’s been a real help for me, to follow his journey and be close to him,” Koutroulis says.
Another valuable role in Koutroulis’ development is his experience coaching youth players in his role as head coach of the Carey Baptist Grammar School senior team, a position he has held for several years. It has given him valuable professional development opportunities including spending time at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS), participating in full week observations at A-League training sessions with Melbourne City and Victory. He has also conducted tours of England and Spain where he had the young players training at headquarters of Real Madrid and Barcelona.
From a coaching point of view, Koutroulis believes there are three important ingredients for a team to be successful at State League levels: “Culture is number one. For me there is no room for players who think they are above the next person. Number two is team unity, supporting one another, working hard together. And thirdly, as a coach, the environment you create for the players is very important. I think if they come to training and the training sessions have a purpose; if they see that the coaching staff have done some homework on the opposition, if they see that the coaching staff sets up the team to play at their strengths and encourage them, I think all these things, when you put them all together, are all key ingredients to be successful.”
He is proud of the culture at Boroondara, and the strong links between juniors and seniors.
“The club has 800 juniors. A lot of my senior players are employed to coach juniors, so that’s a big model. When I spoke about culture, I like to have senior players that work hard for the club not only as players, but also as mentors for younger players. And I think what I’ve developed over there is the fantastic link between the kids and the adults. So a lot of our players coach the juniors. So many times we see juniors come to watch the senior play, because they want to watch their coach run around and by that they get inspired. I like that a lot of my players don’t just come in, train and leave. I like that they come on other nights and help the club. More than just players.”
Koutroulis also praises the Boroondara committee which he says have been very supportive right through.
“I’ve worked with them for a number of years, not only as a senior coach, also overseeing the junior program. So I know they are very supportive of coaches when things are good and not so good.”
Koutroulis laughs at the suggestion that the club may offer him the coach’s job for life, given his track record of leading the Eagles to a hat trick of senior titles.
“I’m ambitious enough to continue my journey and take myself as high as possible. I continue to work hard and to learn and to aspire. And where that ends up, no one knows,” he says.
“What I do know, is that for someone who’s been coaching for a number of years, I’m still at a young age. I’ve got many years ahead of me. I will continue to work hard and learn to be the best coach I can possibly be. And let’s see where that takes me.”