Jets unearth emerging coaching talent
His nickname is Dutchy, he once played in the Eredivisie and he's forever talking about Holland. But the Newcastle United Jets' Gary van Egmond is cut from a far different coaching cloth than Pim Verbeek or Guus Hiddink.
Born and raised in Sydney, Van Egmond is more familiar with waratahs and the Opera House than tulips and the Rijksmuseum. And the Holland that he speaks about isn't the country but James Holland, the Jets' rising young midfielder.
The 42-year-old is proudly Australian and part of the under-rated, emerging breed of local coaches. Despite many gloomy predictions and the loss of several key players, the Jets have again thrived this season to stand on the brink of the A-League Grand Final under van Egmond's shrewd guidance.
'A number of people may be eating humble pie but that is not our concern,' he says of the early doomsayers.
Van Egmond has patiently worked his way through the Aussie system, first serving as a youth coach in the old National Soccer League (NSL) and as an assistant in the first days of the A-League.
Early in the domestic championship's second season, he was thrown into the top job, replacing Nick Theodorakopoulos when the Jets were bottom of the table without a victory after seven matches. With Van Egmond in charge, they then lost just three of their final 14 games - compiling eight victories - to march into the A-League finals.
They followed that encouraging campaign by an even brighter performance in season three to finish second in the table, fractionally behind local rivals, the Central Coast Mariners, on goal difference.
Even after the departure of several international players, including former Colombia striker Milton Rodriguez, Van Egmond has again ensured that Newcastle play an attractive and successful brand of football. Remarkably, no fewer than seven Jets were included in Pim Verbeek's first Australia squad, more than any other A-League club.
During his playing days, Van Egmond had a modest Socceroo career, earning nine caps in the 1990 World Cup campaign under Frank Arok after representing his country in the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
A hardworking and pacy defender, he plied his trade with seven different clubs including Marconi and Wollongong in a marathon domestic career that stretched almost two decades. His sole foray overseas was a 10-game spell in the 1989/90 season for Roda JC in the country of his family's heritage. The Kerkrade club has also been home to ex-Socceroo boss Graham Arnold and World Cup goalkeeper Zeljko Kalac.
Van Egmond has always regretted that he didn't try to stay longer in Europe, choosing instead in his mid-20s to return home to the NSL.
His first coaching experience came in 1998, a year after he'd retired from the NSL, as youth coach at Sydney's Northern Spirit where ex-national teammate Arnold was head honcho.
His move to Newcastle - two hours north of Sydney - came in 2001 when he joined the Newcastle Breakers in the NSL as an assistant to Ian Crook. Even in the void between the end of the NSL and the start of the A-League, Van Egmond stayed in the coastal city, helping pave the way for the arrival of the Jets as the club's development officer before resuming his deputy coaching role.
Unlike his fiery contemporaries John Kosmina (Sydney FC) and Frank Farina (Queensland Roar), Van Egmond isn't known for his sideline outbursts or blazing tirades within the dressing room.
But he's faced more than his share of challenges at Newcastle this season: having to mould a partly inexperienced squad, lifting the Jets from a worrying, mid-season slump and dealing with an over-the-hill Mario Jardel as his marquee player.
The ex-Brazilian international striker and former Portugal club player of the year, now 34, was brought in amidst a blaze of publicity by owner Con Constantine against Van Egmond's better judgment.
In 11 goalless Newcastle appearances - mostly as a late sub - Jardel made little impact. He quietly left the club in January, reportedly to be with his sick mother back in Brazil.
In his interview with Soccernet, Van Egmond speaks candidly about the Jardel affair, his view on marquee players and the problem of selecting Socceroos from the A-League.
Q: Gary, some pundits predicted that the Newcastle Jets would finish in the bottom two of the A-League and yet here you are deep into the finals series. How have you done it?
It hasn't been for one single reason. Everyone has worked hard, from the players to the coaching staff to the administration. A number of people may be eating humble pie but that is not our concern. Our concern has always been making the players better individually and collectively.
Q: Born and bred in Australia and a proud former Socceroo, do you feel that you're helping prove that Aussie-born coaches can rival those from overseas?
I think we have a lot of potentially good coaches within Australia. Coaches just need the information and guidance similar to what the players have received. I think that in the not too distant future coaches from Australia will start to go overseas, just the same as the players.
Q: Newcastle is traditionally a Rugby League stronghold but the Jets' crowd figures aren't far behind the Knights of the NRL. Is there a changing in the sporting culture in the city?
Newcastle has always been one of the footholds of Australian soccer. The support has always been there for football. But it is just recently that we are really awakening the public. It's great to see and be involved at this time.
Q: Why did former Brazilian international star Mario Jardel not turn out to be a success with the Jets? What's your view on big-name imports in the twilight of their careers and the A-League?
I think Mario didn't turn up in the right shape and it made it hard to catch up, getting here so close to the beginning of the season. Unfortunately, there comes a time when champions have to look at greener pastures and let go. I think all clubs need to do their homework diligently before committing to a so-called marquee player. The Australian public want to be entertained and each and every club has a responsibility to ensure that their marquee player is going to bring something extra that Australian players can't provide.
Q: Of the Socceroo squad members from the Jets, who do you think can truly establish themselves in international football?
It is very difficult to sustain Socceroo selection if you play in the A-League. There are a number of factors against you including the length of our season and the standard of the A-League compared to top leagues overseas. I think there are players who could definitely play in the better leagues in Europe and this would give them a better chance of sustaining selection for the Socceroos.
Q: As a player - both at club level and for the Socceroos - what are your favourite matches and memories?
As a player, representing my country at the Olympics was definitely a highlight. It was the first time I played for Australia. On a club level, playing in the UEFA Cup against Monaco when I was with Roda. Also winning the NSL Grand Final with Marconi. Those are probably my fondest and proudest memories, although now it's beginning to become a little harder to remember as it was so long ago!
Sydney-born Jason Dasey is an anchor for Soccernet Sportscenter and Sportscenter on ESPN