Former Socceroo star Paul Okon is the man who's been tasked with transforming the fortunes of A-League strugglers Central Coast Mariners. With just over a month to go until the Mariners kickoff their 2016/2017 campaign, the suits at the top have announced the departure of Tony Walmsley and the arrival of Aussie soccer legend, Okon.
Last season saw the Mariners pick up just 13 points and finish bottom of the league, but this time the club will be hoping for more. Okon will come into the set-up as a bona fide Aussie soccer legend, but he'll certainly face an uphill battle when the campaign gets underway in October.
Even before the Hyundai A-League springs into life the Mariners have been put on the back foot. Despite taking the lead against Green Gully in the Westfield FFA Cup, the Mariners conceded two late goals (one in the 92nd minute) and crashed out of the competition. Aside from showing defensive weaknesses and lapses in concentration, the defeat will be particularly upsetting for Mariners fans as Gully are a league below their team.
Early Upset Stacks the Odds Against the Mariners
In fact, with pre-season results already going against the Mariners, it's not only the fans that are pessimistic about the club's chances in the league. The odds makers at bet365 currently have the Mariners as the second underdogs just ahead of Newcastle Jets. Indeed, in among the operator's news and match reports, its football odds section has the Mariners as 25/1 shots for the A-League title.
Of course, the markets are by no means definitive, but with bet365's stats experts echoing the fans current lack of optimism, there's no doubt the Mariners will be in for a tough time over the coming months. However, while the bookmakers and fans might not be confident, Okon believes he has the experience to lift the side.
Having previously coached Australia's under-20s, Okon knows how to prepare a team with limited resources.
"One thing that I've learnt to accept and do my best with at a national team level has been preparing players with limited time so it's not new to me at all," Okon told the press after signing with his new club.
Big Changes Needed in Small Amount of Time
There's no doubt that Okon will bring a new level of experience to the club, but whether or not he has enough time to plug the Mariners' myriad of leaks is unclear. New managers often bring with them a new wave of positivity, but with just five weeks to erase the memories of last season, Okon won't have it easy. Fortunately, it's a challenge he's looking forward to and that could be enough to turn the Mariners into a decent outfit.
Will they be able to challenge the likes of Adelaide and the Western Sydney Wanderers this season? The chances are they won't, but if Okon can lift the club off the foot of the league ladder and somewhere close to mid-table then he'll have achieved something. In fact, with a two-season contract agreed, he will likely be looking to lay the foundations for success during 2016/2017 before pushing for further glory the following campaign.
Of course, the line between success and defeat in the A-League is a fine one, but if there's anyone who can defy the odds and put a smile on fans' faces then Okon could be that man.