With the Glory squad now entering the second half of its pre-season preparations and the opening game of the 2013-2014 Hyundai A-League looming large on the horizon, Perth Glory Online caught up with Head Coach Alistair Edwards to get his assessment of how his charges are progressing.

With the Glory squad now entering the second half of its pre-season preparations and the opening game of the 2013-2014 Hyundai A-League looming large on the horizon, Perth Glory Online caught up with Head Coach Alistair Edwards to get his assessment of how his charges are progressing.

Perth Glory Online: Alistair, the squad has been back in training now for just over seven weeks, how would you characterise the pre-season build-up to date?

Alistair Edwards: I’ve been extremely pleased with our preparations so far.
We’ve had the two overseas trips to South Africa and Malaysia and played against quality opposition which has been great because it’s enabled us to work on a lot of tactical things and ensured that the team have been able to build a really strong bond during the time that they’ve been away together.
I’ve been involved with many teams through the years and I have to say that the bond within this group is one of the best that I’ve been involved with.
But the best thing about pre-season so far is that every player in the squad has had equal game time.
The whole idea of our first six-week cycle was to make sure that the players feel that they belong in the first team squad.
The young players realise that they are among some really good experienced players, but they also know that they are going to be given an opportunity and they know that they need to take that opportunity when it comes.
They also understand that they need to embrace the culture that we now have at the club.

PGO: The players and coaching staff sat down for a meeting last week, what were the major points to come out of those discussions?

AE: We had a strategic review of our first six-week cycle and the two trips away in which we discussed what we had learned.
It started with us discussing what type of team we want to be, how we see ourselves and how we want to be seen.
The players came up with some really excellent responses; in fact we were blown away by the positive responses from the group.
We talked about the things that we’re good at and what we need to work on, what barriers we have and how we can overcome them, what expectations we have as a coaching staff and what they (the players) expect from us.
We’ve taken all that on board and that provides us with a blueprint of how things are going and what we need to work on between now and the start of the season.
But what really came out was that they are very happy with the environment that has been created and there’s a complete buy-in to the philosophy.
Now it’s about working on the finer details to bring that philosophy to life.

PGO: Now that we’ve moved into the second-half of pre-season and the new league campaign is drawing closer, how will the nature of the preparations change?

AE: The first seven weeks were more about getting everyone involved, building capacity in a physiological sense and getting some of the younger guys some first- team experience.
Now the focus is shifting towards the first game of the season and making sure that our players are match fit.
The next phase is to get players playing 90 minutes on a regular basis and starting to hone in on the starting eleven.
That causes challenges because we have enough players for two teams.
In the games from now on, the players will be playing for longer, so we’ll organise other games for a second group and then mix and match that as we go along.
That’s going to create some fierce competition within the squad and that’s a healthy thing.
We’ve got two players for every position and they all want to play, but obviously if you do the maths, only eleven will be starting against Adelaide.

PGO: At a personal level, you seem to be relishing every minute of being back at the club. What are the most enjoyable aspects of the job?

AE: I love it. For me it’s a huge privilege to be given the opportunity to be the first former Glory player to become Head Coach of the club.
But with that comes responsibility and that’s why it was so important to get good people around and we’ve done that.
The whole coaching staff are not only good at what they do, they are also good people and that’s rubbing off on the whole playing group.
I love coming to training and working with the guys because we’ve got such great experienced players and they are all buying in to what we’re doing and are taking on leadership roles within the team.
And I can also see that there’s a little sparkle in the eyes of the younger players because they are in a really good environment and they are learning from some great people.

PGO: Turning our attentions to the recent pre-season friendlies, we’ve seen Ndumba Makeche score against both Johor and the WA State Team.
Have you been impressed by his performances?

AE: Ndumba is one of the younger players within our squad who knows he will be given an opportunity and it’s up to him to take it when it comes.
We’ve spoken to him individually in depth about the things he needs to work on if he wants to be an A-League player and pleasingly, he’s taken those things on board.
A lot of the younger players are really good people, but they are a bit quiet, so we are working on how to get them to have more presence in games.
Ndumba falls into that category.
He knows what he has to work on and he’s seeing the work ethic and attention to detail of the likes of Jacob Burns and Steven McGarry and also the way even someone as young as Danny De Silva backs himself on the field.
He’s been working on developing that belief in himself and it’s always good for a striker to get a couple of goals.

PGO: On the subject of strikers, how much of a blow is it to have Shane Smeltz unavailable for the early rounds of the new campaign?

AE: Obviously we want all of our best players to be available and Shane is one of our best players, so it’s disappointing that he won’t be available for the start of the season.
But now the challenge has been set to Jamie Maclaren, Ryo Nagai, Chris Harold and Ndumba Makeche because we need to find out who can take over that mantle of the chief striker in Shane’s absence.
We’re hoping that one of those guys will do that and in turn, that will cause a problem for Shane when he comes back.
That’s what we are trying to instil in the group; that if you are playing well, it doesn’t matter who you are or how old you are, you will play.
Shane is working hard and chomping at the bit to get back on the field, but he’s got a way to go yet.

PGO: That opening game of the 2013-2014 season will unfortunately now be played in Adelaide rather than Perth, will that have much of an impact upon the players?

AE: It doesn-t really disrupt our plans to be honest.
Whether we play at home or away, nothing’s going to change.
The only disappointing thing is that the fans wanted to see us playing at home in the first game of the season.
But it’s out of our control and we’ll get that home game back later in the year.
If you’re going to win the championship, you’ve got to be able to win on the road and we’ll take a positive mindset over to Adelaide.

PGO: And finally, we saw Ljubo Milicevic and Harry O’Brien added to the squad last week. There is still one place available on the roster, so are you still in the market to bring another new recruit on board?

AE: We’re not in the market and to be honest we weren’t in the market before Ljubo called.
But when someone of his calibre expressed a strong desire to come to the club, that triggered plenty of interest among Scott Miller, Gareth Naven and myself.
I know Ljubo is going to be a fantastic fit for Glory.
We already have a very good squad, but if circumstances do change, we’ve got that one spot left open.
We’ve got a couple of local guys training with us, like Dean Evans and it could end up being taken by one of them.