Seen as one of the biggest coaching coups of the 2022 season, former Socceroos skipper and ex-A-League Champion Mark Milligan has settled in nicely at his new surroundings as head coach of historic Football NSW League One Men’s side St George FC.
Finally, after the illustrious, extraordinary career he’s had that’s seen him venture to an amazing four FIFA World Cups amongst many wonderful achievements in the A-League, Milligan has returned to the pathway and competition that got him to where he is today.
Milligan appeared in the National Premier Leagues NSW Men’s competition as a player for Blacktown City before moving to A-League Men side Sydney FC in what would kickstart his remarkable career.
However, he returns to NSW’s semi-professional competition not as a player, but as the coach of St George FC, one of the most decorated clubs in Australian football.
“They had lost Greg (King), their coach, who went back to Japan, to Yokohama, and George Souris spoke to me and asked if it was something I might be interested in”, said Milligan on making the decision to join St George FC.
“I said I was more than happy to have a conversation and once I saw what they were planning, and what they were doing there it was an easy decision.
“The club has a very rich history.
“It’s not only what they want to do with the senior teams, it’s what they want to implement from a younger age through.
“I thought it would be a good opportunity for me and something I wanted to be a part of.”
Milligan was fond of the focus on youth that his new club St George FC was promoting, with the new generation set to represent the historical side during the upcoming campaign.
With the young squad has come adaptability which has pleased the former Socceroos captain, with the players taking on board the custodian’s advice.
“We have quite a young team, and the majority of the squad was already in place”, he said.
“They’re an excellent group who are very young – I think I only sort of have two or three boys who are around that late 20s early 30s mark which is good for the club.
“From my point of view as a coach first and foremost you want a group who is very receptive and takes on what you want and over the last month that’s all I’ve got – there’s been no resistance at all and I’ve asked a lot of them.”
St George FC is building a side for the future, with the veteran player now becoming a young coach, resembling the dynamic of the club.
Milligan believes that improving as a footballer goes beyond the development of technical skills on the pitch, and to the learning of the sport and the tactical and historical aspects behind the beautiful game.
The focus on youth has seen this process be extended to all age groups, with Milligan excited about the prospect of the club at every level, not just at the first-grade men’s side.
“It’s mainly to provide an environment for kids coming through so they can not only be developed but learn about the game”, said Milligan on the long term ambitions of his club.
“I think that’s a place where we as a nation are falling a bit short – we want to provide a place where people can come and not just play football, but learn about the game as well.”
Meanwhile, despite having only played a few pre-season games as the coach of St George FC, Milligan is already getting excited about the quality and competition posed in the Football NSW League One Men’s competition.
“There’s a lot of good teams in the competition and the A-League Men’s teams as well with Western Sydney (Wanderers) and Central Coast (Mariners), it seems to be a very good league”, he said.
“There’s a lot of games coming up and it’s very competitive from what I understand and so far from what I’ve seen.
“There’s a lot of good young players with a decent amount of experience in there and when you have teams like St George FC with a rich history in Australian football, you know that there’s something there.
“I’m very much looking forward to getting started and like I said, I think it will be a good challenge for us.
“So far we’ve played some NPL NSW Men’s teams too in friendly matches and things like that, and I don’t think the gap is enormous at all, and I think there’s plenty of potential for young players who want to get a start and come and play regular football.”
Milligan also outlined the importance of the NPL NSW to Australian football, through the development of young players and the motivation and emotion attached to playing within the National Premier Leagues.
“They’re extremely important” he said.
“Obviously with the A-League Men’s there’s a very limited number of places that they can provide – the majority of Australian players are coming through NPL clubs.
“It’s important that they still give those young players something to aspire to in their 18s, 20s and 1st grade, you want a good 1st grade so that the younger ones can sort of look to that.
“Make no mistake, that’s the pathway that I came through at Melita Eagles (Parramatta FC).
“I came through watching our first grade play in the NPL and from a very young age that was something I aspired to and wanted to do, play in the first-grade side for Melita.
“It’s very important that you’re not only coaching these kids the right way and developing a place to teach them about the game, but they need that vision at the end which for me growing up and I know for a number of young kids now is to play in the first-grade team.”
Milligan and his troops will kick start their 2022 campaign when they host Hakoah Sydney City East on Saturday 12th of March (7pm) at the Ilinden Sports Centre.
-By Jack George