Vincenzo Ierardo (left) proudly holding the A-League championship with coach John Aloisi (right). (Photo: Supplied; Design by Theo Dimou)

Vincenzo Ierardo (left) proudly holding the A-League championship with coach John Aloisi (right). (Photo: Supplied; Design by Theo Dimou)

Ex-players are often the first in line for management positions in football, but for one of Australia’s most promising coaches, it’s been a journey that’s taken a slightly different route.

Vincenzo Ierardo, 40, has lived and breathed football his entire livelihood, sharing a special bond with his late father and growing up in a proud Italian background, exhibiting an admirable passion and willingness to always learn – simply something that cannot be taught.

Despite falling short in his pursuit to become a professional footballer, Ierardo ensured that his wisdom and knowledge of the game would not go to waste as he fought tirelessly to earn his coaching badges.

During the Qatar World Cup, he was tasked with the responsibility of scouting upcoming opponents for the Socceroos during the tournament with other analysts. It just so happened to be that he was handed the tall order of dissecting the playing patterns of Lionel Messi and eventual world champions Argentina before Australia’s round of 16 clash.

Now, his coaching career is continuing to blossom and is showing no signs of slowing down. A memorable championship claimed with Western United before accepting a role to become Kevin Muscat’s right-hand man for China’s Shanghai Port – Ierardo is living the dream.

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Speaking exclusively to The Inner Sanctum, Ierardo opened up on how his deep affection for football materialised from an early age.

“I spent my junior days playing for Fawkner and my dad was volunteering at the club, so all my memories of him are during those times. That was when I started to fall in love with the game,” he said.

“Unfortunately my playing ability only took me to a certain level which made me hungrier to make the off-field work more successful coming through the ranks.”

After finishing third during the 2021/22 regular season, Western United achieved the unthinkable and defeated heavy favourites Melbourne City in the Grand Final to win their maiden championship in only their third campaign.

In what was viewed as a monumental turning point for a club still trying to discover its identity as an organisation, Ierardo was a huge part of the masterstroke as an assistant to combine ideas with head coach John Aloisi.

Having had the privilege of working alongside a well-respected figure within Australian football, it was a valuable learning adventure for Ierardo to develop as a coach.

“John is a top human being and a fantastic operator in what he does from a coaching perspective,” he said.

“The five and a half seasons I spent at Western United was a great learning experience, especially working at a club when it essentially started from nothing. It was a huge honour to be there building and forming a strong culture from day one until the day I left which included the days of Marko Rudan and then Aloisi who are both great mentors, so hopefully I added some value for them as well.”

When former Melbourne Victory championship-winning captain and coach Kevin Muscat replaced the departing Ange Postecoglou at Yokohama F. Marinos and won the league title in Japan nearly two years ago, many expected a move to Europe.

Instead, Muscat was appointed as the new Shanghai Port manager in December with a firm aim of tackling a new challenge in Asia while still learning his craft. Spearheaded by former Chelsea star Oscar along with a talented contingent of Chinese players, defending their domestic title is a feasible feat.

Three games into the new Chinese Super League (CSL) campaign, the club remains undefeated with two wins and a stalemate – with their city rivals, Shanghai Shenhua, the only team not to drop a point.

Thanks to his recent relationship with Muscat and impressive resume, Ierardo felt the time was right to test himself in a new culture.

“Before my time at Western United, I worked at Melbourne Victory for six seasons as an assistant coach in the women’s space and then as an assistant for the National Premier League Youth at the same time Kevin was manager of the first team,” he said.

“From there we kept in contact and he’s a great person to be around who I always wanted to follow. I loved the way he went about the game and I admired his football knowledge, so this opportunity with Shanghai Port came about through contact with Kevin.

It’s come at the right time for me and it’s a completely new experience outside of the A-League, so I hope this journey can help me grow whilst adding value to Kevin and the squad.”

The life of a coach at the highest level can never be understood unless you dare to step into those shoes. Hours of dedicated analysis, study, and regimes on and off the pitch represent a small portion of what it truly takes to reach the top.

Officially working side by side with Muscat over the past few months, Ierardo spoke about the correlation between himself and the former Victory boss each day.

“What I’ve noticed since my time working with Kevin is that he’s an unbelievable leader of people and knows how to hold people to account, but also sets the foundations that make you want to follow him and the way the club want to go about their football,” he explained.

“Kevin understands how to build trust with players and staff which then allows him to implement a suitable playing style on the pitch.

“We both work incredibly well together and can bounce off each other’s tactical knowledge to discuss different ways to approach training and match situations.”

Still trying to grasp the new surroundings of a foreign country and the way Shanghai Port conducts its operations, the first few months have been a time to gain familiarity with the club.

“I’m still getting to learn about China and really understand the concepts,” Ierardo confirmed.

“Youngsters is a big passion of mine. I try to learn about our academy players and the senior youth competition which is about to commence, so I will attend as many matches as possible to analyse that space.

“First and foremost, Kevin and I have arrived with the focus on ensuring we get the first team right. We have a ‘newish’ squad with some youngsters being promoted into the setup which is very exciting.

“Once we get the learning part of it all under wraps and obtain the full picture, we’ll be in an even better place to achieve success.”

An old cliche that continues to ring true is that nothing in life comes easy, and Ierardo’s experiences over the years provide an important piece of advice for those aspiring to one day become a coach.

“The first thing I would say is definitely put in the work,” Ierardo said.

“Going through coaching courses is one thing, but actually putting that knowledge built up into action and following up on it is another, so I would encourage people to continue to learn and evolve wherever possible.

“A common misconception is that just because you have passed your courses, it doesn’t entitle you to get a job or start working tomorrow. It can be extremely tough at the beginning as was the case for me when I was forced to juggle a couple of other jobs while attempting to manage six days a week of football, so my advice is to always put in the work and stay patient.”

Separated as two different worlds, a balancing act between football and life outside of the game is crucial, particularly since Ierardo is blessed with a young family who have made sacrifices along the way.

Unconditional love and support from Ierardo’s close circle have allowed him to fulfil his dreams.

“Without my family’s love and support, especially from my wife who looks after our three beautiful children, this journey wouldn’t be possible,” said the former A-League champion.

“We organise regular FaceTime calls and always make sure we keep in touch. Hopefully it will be a nice overseas experience for them when they arrive for a holiday at some point.

Is it tough? For sure, it’s not easy, but it’s always been a goal of mine to pursue an opportunity overseas, so I’m thankful to Kevin and the club for what they have offered me.”

They may be light of exposure within the A-League compared to the majority of the competition, but Western United’s culture and willingness to embrace the community is admirable.

After the celebrations of the epic Grand Final triumph transpired, a small act of kindness by the club touched the hearts of the Ierardo family as they were able to commemorate the achievement with a dear family member, sadly no longer with us.

Iearado highlighted the positive impact that his father had on his life, as well as his football career.

“Without my dad, I wouldn’t know the game as I do right now,” he said.

“At Fawkner Soccer Club, he was a committee member, contributed to the barbeques, opened and closed the gates, so we were always the first in and last out. He taught me what hard work truly means, so my objectives were to play for the club, coach the club, and win silverware which I accomplished.

“I took the same photo holding the trophy I won with Fawkner which was the fourth division, but that meant the world to me.

“When we got to the point where we won the A-league with John [Aloisi] and Western United, I reached out to Steve Horvat who I look up to and asked him if I could borrow the trophy to take to the cemetery and take the photo. I’m forever grateful to the people of Western United for those little moments because even though it was something little in time, it meant absolutely everything to me to share that with my family and especially my father.”

Looking ahead to the foreseeable future, Ierardo only has his eyes set on the present with big aspirations attached to elevate Shanghai Port to new heights.

“It’s a good question because it’s easy to say you want to be this and you want to be that, but right now my core focus is helping Kevin, Ross [Aloisi], and Shanghai be the best possible team that they can be. Hopefully, by doing that we can win some trophies and go on a journey with the football club.

“What does that mean for me long term? I’m still not sure, to be honest. I just want to get better every day and become the best version of myself whilst continuing to help steer the club in the right direction.”

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