Western United FC may be less than two weeks into their Hyundai A-League existence but coach Mark Rudan has already set the wheels in motion to make the competition new boys the ‘best club in Australia’.
It might seem a lofty goal considering the infancy of the competition’s newest club but Rudan has never been one for making rash statements.
Since being handed the reigns to take on the Hyundai A-League’s 11th club, Rudan has been relentless in putting the blocks in place to make United a raging success.
“We want to be the best club in Australia. How we get there, it’s going to take time,” Rudan declares to a-league.com.au.
“I think it’s slow steps right now and so far everyone’s working extremely hard to make sure this is the best football club in Australia.”
Getting United to Rudan’s destination is not something he can manage on his own.
The players, staff and club officials all have to buy in.
“The way we go about training day in and day out and also his demeanour is great. It’s really exciting to be a part of and work with him,” Connor Pain says.
“He [Rudan] knows what he wants and he makes sure we’re on board with what he wants.”
Assistant coach John Hutchinson adds: “He’s very demanding on the players but also very fair.
“He doesn’t expect them to do things that they aren’t capable of…he has very high expectations on all the players and the staff as well.”
When presented with a blank page at Western United FC, Mark Rudan thought long and hard about how to begin the opening chapter.
What do we want to be? Who do we want to be? How do we want to play? These were the questions circling his mind as he got to work in the off-season.
Fast-forward to the aftermath of their gritty 1-0 win over Wellington Phoenix in their inaugural Hyundai A-League game and the pages in the Western United FC’s book continue to turn, as Rudan writes the first lines of their history in the way he intended.
“You’ve got the ability to write the first chapter in what I believe is going to be a pretty long story,” Rudan says.
“It’s a clean slate, it’s a blank piece of paper and you can pretty much write the first chapter and do what you can do.
“There’s always a starting point…it’s about making sure we are pretty strong on culture within the club and what kind of club we want to be perceived as, the identity of our football club and below that, what are our core values of the football club as well.”
To implement the identity and culture he foresaw within the club, Rudan set about acquiring a group of players he believed were up to the challenge.
“In terms of players we do have certain (things which are) non-negotiable,” Rudan says.
“No matter how good the player is, if he wasn’t going to fit culturally, if he was a ‘bad egg’ and kept repeating those bad behaviours, we certainly didn’t want them playing at our football club irrespective of their skillsets and how good they were.”
Instead Rudan banked on players he believed were up to the challenges of both playing the style of football he intended and contributing positively to the growth of the club’s developing identity.
But he wasn’t looking for his players to blindly follow commands; Rudan depended on the squad itself to decide how things were done around the club.
“I like to normally throw it out to the playing group and find out what they want to be perceived as,” Rudan said.
“What do we look like, and when we come up against the opposition of how do want to be described?
“How do we look from a neutral fans point of view as well?
“The key is challenging the players every day. We’ve worked intensely with the players, that’s probably the most important thing.
“Unless you work on it and challenge the players and have the players challenge themselves on it, only then do you find the reward.”
When Western United took the field for their inaugural Hyundai A-League clash against Wellington on Saturday afternoon Rudan fielded seven players over the age of 32.
It’s a reflection on Rudan’s willingness to back in experience to guide Western United through their initial period of growth, to ensure the early pages of their story are written with a steady hand.
“We don’t apologise for bringing players like Alessandro Diamanti, Scott McDonald, Andrew Durante,” Rudan said.
“They’re fantastic human beings, they’re fantastic footballers and what they can do is start the professionalism in the football club that is so important.
“Young kids need to aspire and look up to someone, so we hand-picked these guys along with Ersan Gulum, Panagiotis Kone as well, these are fantastic pros.
“You want them to try pass on their knowledge and experience onto the younger boys.
“Certainly you want hungry players as well, people who are up for a fresh challenge and something new who are going to buy into this football club and help it grow.”
With his squad in place and the Hyundai A-League campaign underway Rudan knows how his team performs on the fields becomes most important from here on out.
Silverware, club legends, cult heroes and everything else that contributes to a storied football club will all be written into the history books at Western United in time.
But for now Rudan has to ensure he develops a style of football that turns people from the area into fans, turns fans into passionate crowds and turns Western United into a powerhouse of the Australian game.
“We’re in the entertainment business, if anyone tells you otherwise then maybe they’re looking at it differently to what I am,” Rudan said.
“Fans want to come and watch these players entertain, that’s what we’re here for. I believe we have a duty of care to the fans in terms of style of play.
“Everyone will tell you the style of play I like to play: we like to be on the front foot, we are attack-minded, we try to play forward whenever we can, we try to put the opposition under pressure whenever we can as well.
“I know fans like to watch that type of football as well, so I coach in a way that a fan would like to watch a game; the way I would like to watch a game.
“I’ve said it before, it might take until the halfway point of the season until you get all the players with all hands on deck and they start to understand their roles and responsibilities clearly.”
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
United’s first home in the A-League is Saturday, October 19 against reigning Premiers Perth Glory at GMHBA Stadium in Geelong.
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