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Nov 13, 2007

Mitchell is Perth's new glory seeker

He speaks conversational Dutch and German, knows a few words of Cantonese, Turkish and Malay while his English has a distinct Scottish accent even though he moved to Australia at the age of 6.

After a career in eight different countries over a quarter of a century, David Mitchell brings a colourful past and a truly international perspective to his new job as head coach of Perth Glory.

And he'll need to quickly draw on every ounce of his experience - both as a player and coach - to revive the fortunes of the A-League's bottom club and secure his own future.

Former assistant Mitchell took over at the start of November when head coach Ron Smith got the sack after Glory went an embarrassing 18 matches across two seasons without a victory.

The Glory responded by travelling across the country and thumping third-placed Newcastle Jets 4-1 to give Mitchell a winning start in charge.

Perth's owners have appointed Mitchell in a caretaker capacity until the end of the season when they will again review their options. He's their fourth manager in three seasons after former Liverpool midfielder Steve McMahon, ex-New Zealand international Alan Vest and Smith, technical assistant to Guus Hiddink at the 2006 World Cup.

Mitchell has been rewarded for his patience after coaching Sydney Olympic, Sydney City and Parramatta Power in the old National Soccer League in the late 1990s and assisting Dutchman Rob Baan with the Australian Olympic team.

In 1999, soon after taking Sydney United to NSL Grand Final, he came close to being appointed Socceroo coach before former national teammate Frank Farina got the job.

As a player, 'Big Mitch' was a pioneer in the days when very few Australians played abroad. In 1982 at the age of 20, he paid A$30,000 of his own money to break his contract with Sydney City and join Rangers in the city of his birth, Glasgow.

I met Mitchell in 1987 during his days in the Netherlands soon after he moved from Eintracht Frankfurt to Feyenoord in Rotterdam.

A physical and yet skilful striker who was a good dribbler, Mitchell played in the Eredivisie and UEFA Cup for Feyenoord, scoring 12 goals in 40 games.

Unlike many of his team-mates, Mitchell was a steady family man who shrewdly invested his wages and was always planning for the future. At the age of 24, he even bought a right-hand drive Mercedes Benz in Germany with an eye to importing it home to Australia.

From Feyenoord he moved to Chelsea for an ill-fated spell at Stamford Bridge during which he made only seven appearances, had injury problems and fell out with manager Bobby Campbell.

Happier days in England saw him score on-loan for Newcastle United in the FA Cup - link up with ex-England boss Glenn Hoddle at Swindon Town - and have a productive spell at Millwall under Mick McCarthy in London, scoring 15 goals in 55 matches.

Other stops along the way included Altay Izmir in Turkey, Malaysian club Selangor and Seiko in Hong Kong. His long and winding road will be documented in an autobiography, due to be released next year.

In our interview, Mitchell credits Hoddle, McCarthy and his old Rangers boss Jock Wallace as his major coaching influences, says that Perth making the semi-finals is still a possibility and says that Asia could be the key to a rich future for the West Australian club.


Q: A 4-1 victory is a great start to your A-League head coaching career. What's been the reaction of your squad?

A: A great sense of relief. Had we lost that game we would have equalled the all-time winless streak in the A-League (19 games held by the Knights) and obviously we didn't want that to happen.

We'd been playing quite well in previous weeks and just not getting the results. I was happy with the performance against Newcastle than anything else. To score four away to a good team who hadn't conceded many this season was fantastic.

Q: How are you hoping to turn things around at Perth Glory and what would be a realistic goal for this season?

A: I've had a lot of personal meetings with players and told them individually what's required of them and how we might improve their performances collectively.

Mathematically, it's still possible to make the top four, but that's a big call. Our first goal is to get off the bottom of the table, win our remaining five home games and try to get something out of the away matches.

Q: What have the owners told you? How long have you got to prove yourself as head coach?

A: They told me that I have until the end of the season and then they'll review the situation and see how things are going at that point. That's fine with me. I know what's needed.

However, ideally, it's probably best to start planning for next season now so that we can pick up the best players out there before they're snapped up by other clubs.

Q: Perth Glory was one of only three clubs to survive from the old NSL where it was highly successful but you haven't reached the same heights in the A-League. But what's the club's potential?

A: Perth Glory used to be the benchmark in the old NSL but the A-League franchise hasn't been so successful. But the potential and backing are huge, especially now with A-League's move into Asia through the Asian Champions League.

We are closer to Singapore and Malaysia than Sydney. There are plenty of great sponsorship and promotion opportunities in Asia.

Q: You played professional football in eight different countries. Who have been your major coaching influences?

A: Jock Wallace is one from my time at Rangers. He did some great things that I've adopted. He also did some other things that I would never use!

Glenn Hoddle, who coached me at Swindon Town, was my coaching mentor. I like the way he got into people's heads and yet he was so humble. And his teams played good football, just like Hoddle did when he was such a great player. Mick McCarthy who went on to become Republic of Ireland national coach was another influence from my time at Millwall.

Q: What were the high and low points of your long club career?

A: The high point was winning the Scottish League Cup with Rangers and playing for them in Europe against the likes of Inter and Roma and of course the Old Firm games against Celtic.

That was my first professional contract after leaving Australia. The low point was my time at Chelsea. I had a career-threatening injury and fell out with the manager. Ken Bates had just bought the club and there was a very unpleasant atmosphere.

At that time in the late 1980s, English football was so different, compared to Holland and Germany, both in its style and the way it was run.

Q: You were once touted as a possible Socceroo coach and you've assisted Rob Baan with the Olympics side. Would you like to be involved with the national set up again?

A: You never know. I was the favourite for the national job back in 1999 (when Frank Farina was appointed) before politics came into it and I missed out. It looks like a pretty closed shop at the moment but it'd be something that would interest me in the future.

I actually know Dick Advocaat pretty well from my time in Holland and also from when he was at Rangers. For sure, it'd be something that I'd be open to.


Sydney-born Jason Dasey (www.jasondasey.com) is a co-host of Soccernet SportsCenter and SportsCenter


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