In this week’s WA On Wednesday, Perth SC head coach Pete Rakic speaks to Impetus’ Ben Gilby about developing his squad, the season-long battle with Perth RedStar, and how the game needs to develop in WA with the players at the forefront of thinking (21/9/22).
Above: Perth SC head coach Pete Rakic shares tactical advice during this season. Photo supplied to Impetus by: Rob Lizzi.
Whilst Perth SC may have ended the season with another second-place finish in the NPLW WA and a preliminary final loss to Hyundai NTC, head coach Pete Rakic saw a number of steps forward from his charges – and knows exactly what needs to be done to make further progress in 2023.
He took over the team ahead of the season just gone and set about implementing several changes which he felt necessary to lift standards at Dorrien Gardens.
“Above all I really wanted this team to feel significant changes to the standard of football that I believe should be on display at NPL level, and to recognise that their true potential is still yet to be shown. I put my energy in combining these changes with the ambition to fight for a title and so much more, as it goes without saying that every coach wants to win silverware for their respective clubs, but it’s more important to understand that success is never immediate.
Rakic then looked at changing his team’s style of play, to one which involved more of an emphasis on passing and looking at ways to maintain possession whilst looking to utilise the many attacking weapons in the Azzurri side. This was something that his squad brought into quickly. “For me, it was about making the message clear from the start. Not only implementing a new brand of football, but ensuring that all players understood why.
“From our whiteboard sessions, to video and data analysis, and more importantly what we executed on the training pitch, it was vital that each one of these tools were used effectively together to create something that we all felt. Possession-based football may be a dying art, and perhaps less exciting to those who prefer vertical play, but I firmly believe these players will continue to grow into complete footballers, driven by a mentality of protecting the ball, understanding when to use it to manipulate the movement of their opponents and to have total control of the game.
“The way the girls adapted to a new style of coaching and how each week continued to show immense progress in all parts of our game was pleasing. While we unfortunately came up short on more occasions than we would have liked, they recognised where we needed to work and what our focus was on moving forward.
“I think there were several matches throughout the year where we showed really good passages of our new identity, although when considering a dominant performance, I thought that came against Fremantle in the league where we won 3-0. There wasn’t a moment of that game where I felt we weren’t in control, even at halftime with the scores locked at 0-0. Being able to have that level of confidence in your team truly feels special.”
After finishing second at the end of the regular season, Perth SC went into a finals campaign that saw them eventually face Hyundai NTC for a place in the Grand Final. The talented teenagers had an incredible ability to defeat Rakic’s team across the season, and managed to do so again thanks to Tanika Lala’s goal two minutes into extra-time.
“I definitely thought that each of our games with the NTC came down to whatever happened on the day (rather than them having a particular ability to defeat Perth SC). When two teams that are drilled to play football under any circumstances battle it out head to head, it tends to turn into a game of very fine margins, a cagey affair with neither team trying to allow for the other to gain any real momentum, and you could visibly see it on a tactical level.
“Unfortunately for us though, we struggled to capitalise on a lot of our goal-scoring opportunities, and this wasn’t just evident in our encounters vs NTC. It just so happened that on each of our meetings we failed to do enough where it mattered most.”
Whilst Perth SC found it hard to get anything from the NTC, they were one of only two teams across the season that prevented Perth RedStar from taking three points from them – a feat they enjoyed twice. This was, though tempered by defeats to Carlos Vega Mena’s side in both the State Cup Final and the major semi-final in the Top Four Cup. Rakic believes that the pressure put on when facing RedStar as their closest rivals all season long could have been a factor in his team not being able to turn draws into wins against the champions.
“This newfound rivalry with RedStar I think certainly played a huge psychological factor to a lot of our younger players, and perhaps that’s where the difference lies. There was always so much pressure to overcome them, and it often left us deviating away from our game plan or trying too hard to get the simple things right, and in turn, it would lower our overall performance.
“This is something that comes with experience, and when you look at how many ex-A-League and national players this Redstar team has, I’m always proud that we proved to be their toughest opponents. I am still gutted though that we never faced them with a full-strength side, which I would have loved to see even on just one occasion, this was easily the biggest difficulty we faced this year.”
With Perth SC having finished as runners-up in the NPLW WA once more, Rakic is looking to make the next step with his side, with keeping the core of his team together one of the starting points.
“I believe we have the right foundations in place and the right brand of football to push ourselves beyond our limits next season. I also have intentions to bolster our ranks and there’s no denying that. It’s not only having the trust in the players that are currently at the club, but it’s equally important to give those girls something to fight for – and not just silverware.
“I want players to be challenged every week in keeping their spot in the starting 11, that professional style environment that encourages players to become the best version of themselves. I think complacency can be a debilitating factor in chasing success, so it’s absolutely necessary to have not only quality on the park, but quality in depth.
“Long-term injuries and player departures really hurt us. We would slowly build momentum over the course of a few fixtures, awaiting the return from players on the sidelines, only to be struck with another one the following week. This obviously gave some of our younger players a chance to step up, but the absence of core first-team players was certainly felt.”
Looking ahead more widely for next season, the Perth SC head coach believes that the scheduling of Top Four Cup matches needs to be looked at. This year, the preliminary final was locked in to be played in the midweek between the major semi-final and the Grand Final – a factor that had major repercussions for the preliminary final winners to perform again within such a short turnaround.
“This to me is one of the most baffling things I have struggled to get my head around, it is total nonsense and it shows a complete lack of care for not only player welfare, but the quality of football that is expected to be backed up in such a short turn around. It is proven by studies that it is far from an adequate time frame for correct recovery for any football team, even at the highest level with professional resources.
“Our squad numbers were severely diminished by this part of the season as it was, and we lost a further three players due to injury in the first major semi-final against RedStar. The evidence speaks for itself, and it’s a shame that we continue to see these warning signs constantly undermined.”
A major talking point among the Western Australian women’s football community is the present trend for talented local players to move to the east coast to play NPLW football, and potentially A-League Women level matches too. Rakic shares that frustration and believes strongly that things have to change.
“As a coach, I think we hold a huge responsibility in this, in ensuring that our players feel as though they are constantly growing in the environment that we create, both as a person and as a footballer. But to keep players here and to evolve football in WA there needs to be evidence of opportunity on top of that. Until then there will always be questions raised with the lack of interest that is somewhat projected from above, with no presence ever seen or heard of at NPLW games.
“It’s well known that players have been encouraged to move across to the east or overseas if they want any chance of breaking into a professional team, but this statement alone is enough to dishearten those who wish to stay, and we can’t be forever admitting that football in WA is a dead end.”