31/05/2024

Alex Epakis Photo: NPL NSW Womens - Website

Perth Glory manager Alex Epakis talks to The Inner Sanctum about his impressive and exciting pre-season recruitment process

There was no time to waste, there never is in the hectic time between seasons when every club is looking to recruit. Acting quickly and with decisive planning, Alex Epakis embarked on a swift recruiting mission. He travelled the country to find the right players to build on his first season as Perth Glory’s coach.

Glory finished ninth for 2020/2021. They were faced with unprecedented difficulties from the beginning imposed by the pandemic, quarantines, and border restrictions.

Despite facing an uphill battle for most of the season, The young team with a new coach played with confidence and attacking intent.

From this, hope emerged from impressive performances. Young players like Tijan McKenna and Hana Lowry established themselves as regular starters and exciting talents.

But going into the new season changes were needed.

As his first season in charge ended, Epakis showed no rest or hesitation in assembling a team of returning players and bright new talents for the upcoming campaign.

“Last season was difficult for a number of reasons,” he told The Inner Sanctum.

“I came quite late into pre-season and the preparation and recruitment had largely already been done.

“I knew that when I came in last year I wanted to do my best in the current moment but also proactively create a plan for the medium and long term.”

The first three signings were returning players, captain Natasha Rigby, Mckenna, and Lowry. Then Epakis began to travel the country on his recruitment drive.

“If I’m being really honest by the time season finished last year, right after the last game I had a plan ready that I wanted to act.

“I had a player shortlist that I had researched.  Then it was about doing the player character due diligence to make sure those players were the right players.

“Not so much from a football point of view but from a personality, mentality, and character point of view.”

“You want to do your homework”

The player’s off-field attributes are valued as highly as what the players can do with the ball by Epakis.  There are many talented players in the country, but Perth was looking for the right individuals for the club.

“A lot of research goes into that aspect,” he said of the player’s personalities. 

“You want to do your homework to make sure that you are recruiting in good people, with a strong growth mindset and who can add value to a team environment.

“I knew that from a football point of view they could deliver what I wanted because I’d watched hours and hours, I’d scouted them live and I’d gone to training sessions.

“Every player we signed I know has the ability to fit the way I want the team to play, but it’s the soft stuff that you don’t always know which is the character and mentality.

“Once I did the character references and I knew they were the right players on and off the field, I would then make contact with the players.”

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Perth has so far signed 10 new players from last season to join those returning to the squad. It might have looked like a flurry of activity but it was a careful, considered process by the club and coach.

Among those are experienced players and the brightest young talents

“I won’t reach out to a player unless I’ve done all the homework and I’m comfortable that I want them to be part of the squad and I believe that they can add to the team.

“I created a player profile built on analysis and metrics. The end of the process is me actually making contact with the player and sharing the vision of the club and project we are hoping to build.”

The mission took Epakis across the country to monitor potential players. He travelled between Melbourne and Sydney, fitting in returns to Perth.

The speed in which the club sprang into action proved fortuitous in more ways than one. Epakis was able to watch the majority of the players and meet with them in person in the months before borders slammed shut again.

He believed that Perth Glory was supportive of the endeavour from the beginning.

“I’ve got a fantastic working relationship with the hierarchy at the club.

“They were really happy for me to take the lead and build the best environment possible, get the best staff and players in possible to do what we can to have a more successful season.”

Building on the foundations

Glory’s season was defined by difficulty. They had long stretches of postponed matches and they faced in-form, match fit teams in the closing rounds. But Epakis used the opportunity to plan for the future.

Many of the players have been signed to fill gaps in the squad or enhance what already worked.

All good football managers are looking to improve constantly and this season’s squad ambition began early.

“I’m quite fortunate that I’ve spent a few years in women’s football. So I had a pretty good understanding of the players that are around and the players that are coming through.”

The faith shown in young players last season had an impact on potential recruits. Mckenna, Lowry played regularly and watching Glory play meant seeing a glimpse into the future of the sport.

“Tijan and Hannah they really stood out,” he said of the rising stars.

“For me it was all about, picking the right players at that moment and both of those players, as did others like Isabella Wallhead and Debora De La Harpe showed they were ready for it and playing at that level.”

In addition to some of the best young players in the country, Perth has added experience to key areas of the pitch.

Kim Carroll will help sure up the defence and Courtney Newbon will take over the goalkeeping duties.  

Adding to the attack

One of those players is Susan Phonsongkham. The former Western Sydney Wanderers striker missed the last season with injury and is a player Epakis is excited to sign after having coached against her in the NPLW.

“I’ve been on the receiving end of some of her performances and I know exactly what she can do,” he said of the Young Matilda.

“I’m just really fortunate that she believes we are the best environment for her at this point in her career to try and get back playing consistent football again at this level.

“I’m a really big admirer of what she can do on the field and she’s an absolute professional off the field.

“She can really light up a team and light up a game, and we just want to do our absolute best to help her get to that level and play a big part in what we want to achieve this season.

“It’s important to create a safe and supportive environment for her so she feels confident in what she’s doing.”

In a lift to Perth’s fortunes, Gemma Craine has returned. Perth’s season was hit hard when the attacker damaged her hamstring in round four. According to Epakis, she is ready to go.

“I think Gemma’s stronger and fitter than she was before the injury, her work rate and her attitude towards training was just immense.”

“They can rely on us for the next few years”

One of the features that stands out about Perth’s recruitment is that numerous players have been signed to multi-year deals.

It is still a rarity in a competition that see’s the majority of players, even big stars on single-season contracts.

Epakis sees an opportunity to secure the future and impact the present.

“It wasn’t a hard and fast rule that every player we signed had to be multi [year deal],” he said.

“I really wanted to create a level of consistency and stability for the club and build a good core group of players.

“You can only really do that when there is that stability in the background of a longer-term commitment. So for me it always made sense.

“It just gives us a really good foundation that we know we can rely on and they can rely on us for the next few years.”

Perth fans should not be worried that success is a distant prospect. The players they have recruited have the talent to make an immediate impact on the league this season.

“We’re going to have some really proud performances,” the manager said of his expectations.

“We’re going to have a team that allows us to be really forward in our approach.

“We don’t want to take a reactive approach in the way we play. We just want to think about attacking the opposition and the match.”

It might be mission accomplished on the recruitment front but the real work is just about to begin.

For the players who have joined and the ones who have remained there is a job to do. Glory’s fans have every reason to be excited.

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