In the first of this season’s #MidweekDub features, Impetus editor Ben Gilby spoke EXCLUSIVELY to Perth Glory head coach Alex Epakis about the club’s pre-season recruitment and how they are aiming for constant improvements and high standards.
Above: Perth Glory head coach Alex Epakis. Photo: Perth Glory FC.
Perth Glory had just about the toughest season that any club could have during 2020/21.
Not sure if they could even take part in the W-League due to border restrictions until the eleventh hour meant that recruitment was virtually impossible apart from bringing together the best young players in Western Australia to pull on the purple shirt. Add in the fact that their new head coach couldn’t get into the state until weeks before the season eventually started left the club in a position of virtually fighting with both arms tied behind their backs.
Whilst results didn’t go their way, the performances and passion that the exceptionally young group put in were hugely promising. To build on those foundations, head coach Alex Epakis and the key people at the club met as soon as the last campaign finished to put in place their plan for 2021/22, with a strong recruitment campaign key.
Alex outlined what that initial process looked like. “It was about identifying the type of character and person that we wanted in terms of a profile and what that looked like. The women’s game is a very transitional one with the capacity to run at high intensity vital. So, with all those things we came up with a matrix system that ensured that whatever player we looked to sign met enough of those metrics into what we wanted on and off the field.
“We have signed a lot of attacking players and players who have the ability to play in different positions. We had to bring in some experience in the spine and we’ve done that with Kim Carroll, Mie Leth Jans, and to an extent Cyera Hitzen who has some experience playing for the US national teams at a youth level. To add to Tash Rigby’s leadership and to Sarah Carroll’s leadership, we’ve done some good recruitment in that space. We’ve already noticed a big shift in training as those players are adding experience and expertise in driving the level up.”
The Western Australian side got their recruitment underway early, retaining a number of key players from the previous campaign and bringing in seven new players by the end of June which is almost unheard of in W-League football. Alex identified the reasons for getting organized quickly after all of the challenges that Glory suffered last time around.
“We worked very hard to get these players signed early. I knew I had to be very clear and efficient in that process because I suspected that if players knew that there was a clear plan and a proactive approach to what Perth Glory was building, there would be that excitement, that rebound excitement after a difficult season, so for me it was really important to get the first few signings and get them announced and generate some momentum. It’s the way we needed to do it for this particular season and also the fact that we were able to get quite a few of the signings on board for a few seasons, so it means we acted quick, but it gives myself and the club stability later.”
However, the club’s final signing just days before the new season started was the one that took all the headlines. The return of Australian football legend Lisa De Vanna to the A-League Women and to her hometown club.
“We are really privileged to have Lisa (De Vanna) join us. She brings a lot of experience both on and off the field and she is a larrikin and it lightens up the mood. You go through so many emotions in professional sport. She felt this was a great environment for her to get back focused on football. She’s a joker, pulling jokes on players and staff. She has a glint in her eye, she hides and all sorts! She’s in unbelievable shape and ready to go.
“Lisa is a proud West Australian and I know she is valuing the opportunity to represent her hometown club as part of what is shaping up to be a very dynamic and exciting squad to work with,” he said.
“She has a proven track record at every level of the game, is extremely motivated to succeed on a team level, and will provide even further x-factor to our attack.
“Lisa has been involved with the team for over a month now, has fitted in extremely well into our environment and culture, and is focused on working hard to ensure the team has a competitive campaign.
“I think it’s good that we have that mix of experience to get the best out of our younger players. I’m pretty confident that many of the players here will be well known around the country and pushing for higher honours before the end of the season.”
One of the real positives from last season was the way that a large number of very young locally produced players performed in the competition in exceptionally challenging circumstances. The vast majority of those players have been retained. Alex outlined how he is aiming to balance giving these youngsters game time and easing the pressure on them with the more experienced spine in the team this year.
“The job of a coach is to put a balanced team out on a matchday that can win a match. Experience and leadership play a part in that, but also so does the exuberance of youth and naiveté.
“Each match will have a specific game plan and there will be certain players that within that game plan are more suited than others. The age and experience will be a factor, but it won’t be the determining factor. It will be the player who we believe will be the best fit for that game.”
Alex also highlighted the close eye that he and his coaching staff kept on WA’s women’s NPL during the off-season of the W-League/A-League Women.
“I was fortunate as despite being stuck in Sydney for a few months, I was able to watch every WA NPL game. We had one of the coaches here watching games and I had another assistant coach watching games. Quite often we would have three or four sets of eyes watching the competition.
“We developed a database of players that we felt would fit our system. Someone like Sadie Lawrence (who was brought in from WA NPL club Murdoch University Melville) and a couple of others who are training with us at the moment – we identified that they are doing some great things in the NPL here and we want to give them an opportunity.
“Personally, I’ve tried my best to have an open and transparent relationship with the clubs here and that’s really important going forward.”
Looking ahead to the new season, with Western Australia’s borders with a number of states still closed due to the pandemic, Alex outlined the constantly changing situation that the club is working with in terms of locations for matches this season.
“I hear something different every day. We have to manage the unpredictability and manage the chaos. We had it last year. Not one week went according to the schedule, whether it be the playing schedule or the training schedule.
“We had 23 weeks of constant changes last year, so, if anything it has set us up to manage this season better. We’ll take it day by day and see how the APL can assist us.”
In terms of how he views the season from a wider perspective, the Perth Glory head coach said: “There’s a lot of dynamic squads there in a dynamic competition. I think it will be competitive, there will still be a level of unpredictability that, for me, means that any team should be able to beat any team if they get the game plan right, if they have the right luck with injuries. As a result, we will have a strong competition.
“For us, we want to make sure that every game we play sees us put in a proud performance and we give it our best effort. If we get the process right and the players are well supported to improve during the season and execute the game plans, we’ll have a great chance of having a successful season – whatever that means. We want to make sure that we can look back and say that we did our best.”
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