Rockdale City Suns coach Branko Culina is getting ready for the start of the NSW Premier League season - but admits he would love a position back in the A-League again.
An experienced coach who has led clubs in the Victorian Premier League, NSL and the A-League, Culina took up the role with Rockdale in October 2012.
His last job in the A-League - after a short stint with Sydney FC in 2007 - was with Newcastle Jets from 2009 until he was sacked four days before the start of the 2011-2012 season, apparently in a row over his son Jason's long-term knee injury and his marquee star contract.
“I obviously missed coaching at any level after what happened at Newcastle,” Culina said. “It was a bitter way, a bitter end to finish a coaching career.
"You don’t mind getting sacked if you get poor results, at the end of the day you live and die by results.
"But you wait so long to get an opportunity to coach at the highest level and you then get to prepare a team for the first time with the resources that are available, the resources to get the right staff, and you get a long-term contract where you can really have an influence on the club...and then two weeks before the season starts, you’re gone.
“Of course you’re bitter, you’re disappointed, disillusioned, everything. Do I want to finish my career on that note? No, I don’t. That was one of the reasons I took on the job at Rockdale, to prove to myself that I still had something to offer.”
Culina enjoyed a brilliant debut season at Rockdale, leading the Suns to a fourth place finish and a spot in the grand final, the first time the club had reached the decider since promotion in 2010.
“I took on a club that was low profile, it didn’t have the resources that some of the other clubs did, and it gave me the satisfaction of being able to build something,” he said.
“Luckily we produced some players - a couple are playing overseas, three or four of them are playing for the A-League team at Sydney FC. The likes of Alec Urosevski, Nick Taneski, Themba Muata Marlow and Max Burgess are all with Sydney FC on the verge of first-team football.
"Richard Cardozo’s playing in New Zealand, Brendan Gann in Malaysia, so that’s the satisfaction I got out of it."
Forwards Urosevski and Tanesku, defender Muata-Marlow and midfielder Burgess are all part of Sydney FC’s National Youth League which recently won the title. Gan is currently with Kelantan in the Malaysia Super League while Cardozo, who scored 17 goals for Rockdale last season, is playing for Waitakere United.
Culina added: “I personally believe I’m a better coach now than I’ve ever been.
"When you’re out of the game, it gives you plenty of time to think about things, what you would do and how you would do things differently. Even though I didn’t get sacked because of results, I still believe I could have done things differently maybe to have avoided that.”
Culina is enjoying his time in the NSW Premier League but his dismissal by the Jets, and a return to the A-League, remains on his mind.
“Even today I don’t know why I got sacked,” he said. “That’s the hardest part to swallow. I don’t know.
"There’s a lot of talk that I got sacked because Jason was injured and I knew about it and I brought him – that’s all nonsense. Everyone who knows the situation knows I didn’t bring Jason to Newcastle, I had no input into it.
"Everyone knows the medical was done and no-one envisaged Jason was going to have two operations, it was only one. The medical people passed it without me being involved or have anything to do with it.
“That’s the bit that hurts. That’s not the way I want to finish my career. I’ve been a player and a coach for the best part of 40 years at senior level, I don’t want to finish on that note.
"I believe I’ve got a lot still to offer, Ernie Merrick’s proving that with Wellington. Ange and Arnie have proved that because everyone had them written off as well.
“Sure people have forgotten about me - but I really do believe I’m a better coach now than ever before. Whether I’ll get another a chance, that’s not up to me, it’s up to other people.”