Melbourne Knights players yesterday pledged to win the National Soccer League finals series to persuade their coach, Mirko Bazic, to remain in Australia.
The Knights meet South Melbourne at Olympic Park on Sunday in the first leg of the major semi-final.
Bazic, who is expected to win the league’s coach-of-the-year award for leading the Knights to the minor premiership in his first season, said he might return to his family in Croatia because he felt disillusioned about Australian soccer. “Here you play for seven months and then, for five months, there is nothing. In Europe it is more professional.”
Knights captain Josip Biskic said Bazic was the best coach he had had during his 12 seasons with the club.
League top-scorer Mark Viduka said: “We’re determined to win to show our appreciation for what Mirko Bazic has done for us and to convince him to stay.”
Bazic’s frustration with Australian soccer surfaced at a media conference yesterday as he responded to the NSL’s innovation of allowing five, rather than two, substitutes to sit on the bench during the finals series. “This is an excellent move. Allowing only two players is stupid. It is only about saving money. Instead of saving money you should look at saving soccer.”
Bazic, 55, has coached Dinamo Zagreb and won the 1986 Canadian title with Windsor Wells.
South coach Jim Pyrgolios said Steve Tasios would partner Mike Petersen and Jason Polak in midfield, while Con Boutsianis would start on the bench. Captain Paul Wade is expected to play despite an ankle injury.
Meanwhile, Sydney Olympic president Harry Michaels denied that his team would refuse to play its semi against Marconi on Sunday because the players had not been paid. “We were only two weeks behind … and they will have their money. Other clubs get nine or 10 weeks behind.”
The other semi is between Adelaide City and Sydney United.
THE Knights have announced a new award, the George Hannah Rookie-of- the-Year trophy, in honor of defender Hannah who is returning to Scotland after 11 seasons with the Knights and one with Morwell Falcons.
THE Australian Soccer Federation yesterday named the finalists for the NSL’s individual awards, to be presented on 26 April. They are: Player of the year: Biskic, Marth, Viduka (Knights), MDurakovic (SMelb), SCorica (Marconi). U-21 player of the year: Viduka (Knights), ACervinski (Knights), GLozanovski (Adelaide C). Goalkeeper of the year: SMautone (Morwell F), ZKalac (Sydney U), Mike Gibson (Sydney O).
Coach of the year: Bazic (Knights), BMcLachlan (Morwell), MSchaefer (Sydney U).