Macarthur FC head coach Ante Milicic is eager for his side’s return to competitive football tomorrow night, with the Bulls taking on Northern NSW NPL outfit Newcastle Olympic in their FFA Cup Round of 32 tie.
Having built a new look squad during the offseason with key veterans retiring, Milicic believes the game is a great opportunity for the team to gel, saying the spirits are high in the Macarthur camp with both he and the playing group looking forward to getting back out on the pitch.
“It is exciting because at the same time we know that the season is about to start next week,” Milicic told media on Friday.
“The boys have been training well, and it’s also a good opportunity for us to get away as a group, we’ve got a lot of new faces in the squad.
“And I think there’s nothing better for the group at this particular stage than to go away, spend the night together in a hotel, get to know each other a little bit better and in the end you’ve got a competitive game in a tournament that we want to do well in, so everyone is really looking forward to it.”
Yet to decide his definitive starting line up for the A-League Men’s 2021/22 season opener next week against the Wellington Phoenix, Milicic says tomorrow night’s cup game will provide an opportunity for players to cement their spot in the side.
“It’s been a difficult preseason for us because we probably haven’t had the amount of friendly games as we would have liked,” he said.
“Obviously I’m not sealed on my first eleven for the first game against Wellington, so a few players will get an opportunity, but at the same time I’m getting to know the new players particularly that are with us.
“The main thing for us is that we get some good match minutes into the players and hopefully avoid injuries, and then work more on our first eleven in the week leading up to the [Wellington] game.”
Despite coming up against an unfamiliar opponent in NPL side Newcastle Olympic, Milicic has not been deterred by the unpredictability of the opposition, saying he and the club are purely focused on what they can do.
“That’s all part of the challenges you get as a football, at the same time we have to remain focused and professional, we’ve obviously analysed the opposition, we’ll treat them with respect but of course the focus is on ourselves to play our brand of football,” he said.
“So no excuses from us, we’re going there with a good mentality, I’ve been happy with our preparation and it’s up to us to adjust, yes it’s a different stadium, not sure how the field will pull after Wednesday with all the rain been happening lately.
“But we’ll go there the night before to prepare, I’m expecting a good professional performance from my team.”
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Milicic also addressed the notions of unrest in the club following the departure of Adam Federici and Mark Milligan last month.
Federici departed weeks after being appointed captain, while Milligan left club having been recently appointed as an assistant coach following his retirement. Though the Bulls coach is confident that it won’t affect the performances of the team going forward despite the unideal circumstances.
“Look, obviously there were a couple high profile departures at the club, but I think that happens often in the world of football,” he said.
“I’ve been involved in the game for a long time and it’s just situations that occur and we quickly have to move on, and that’s what we’re trying to do as a group.
“Both Adam and Mark were very influential for this football club, now we have to move forward in a short space of time and quickly adjust, and it hasn’t been smooth, it hasn’t been easy, but what is easy these days in football and in life.
“I’m very confident in the group, we’ve got a great bunch of boys and they’ve been training well and as I said the best thing for us now to get up the competitive games on the way, I’m confident in the squad that we have that we can be competitive.”
Ulises Dávila will making his debut for the Bulls having joined the club from the Phoenix during the offseason, with the Mexican playmaker having been named as Macarthur’s captain for the upcoming season.
Milicic says that Dávila will be a different type of leader compared to Milligan last year, feeling that Dávila will lead by example with actions rather than his words.
“[He’s] different to Adam, different to ‘Millsy’ [Milligan] the season before, it was unexpected in some ways with Adam retiring but we knew what he went through last year to get through the season,” he continued.
“So obviously when Adam retired I had to make a big decision, but Uli [Dávila] has been captain before at his previous club, he’s a leader more so by his actions on the field and in the way he conducts himself, he’s fitted in really well, he’s popular amongst the group, and made a decision to make him the captain for the upcoming season which he’s really accepted.
“Looking forward to what he brings to the group both on and off the field, we’re comfortable with him being captain but at the same time we’ve still got a lot of boys there with some leadership qualities so he’ll be supported of course by the senior group.”
Milicic also noted the vaccination status of the playing group, saying that currently all of his playing squad is available and the club has been compliant with COVID regulations.
“Everyone is available and that’s the main thing, as I said everyone is training, I’ve got a full group of players to choose from and there’s no issues with us in regards to vaccination,” he said.
Milicic will still be without Bulls newest recruit Filip Kurto, who was signed for the club last month to replace the outgoing Adam Federici.
With the goalkeeper having spent the offseason overseas, Milicic says that his signing after the start of preseason has prevented him from being with the squad.
“He’s come in that late [into preseason] that he’s not even in the country,” he said.
“I’ve had a few video calls with him, we’ve obviously done a bit of work like that but it’s not the same until he comes here with his wife and son and adjusts to the surroundings.
“But at the same time he hasn’t played professional football since March, we know of his quality, we know of his character, we’re looking forward for him to arrive at the football club but as I said he’s not here at this stage.”
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