Five NPL managers that can make the jump to the A-League Men
Amidst the excitement surrounding a potential National Second Division alongside speculation that an additional four clubs will be added to the A-League Men in the future, FPF looks at five current NPL managers who are candidates to make the professional jump to Australian football's top tier.
The closest to a top-tier job, Paul Pezos is already making headways in the NPL in South Australia with Adelaide City FC, enough to see him heavily linked with the vacant head coaching role at Brisbane Roar for next season.
Paul Pezos' Adelaide City side dominated South Australia in 2022. (Brenton Bessell and Adelaide City FC)
Pezos is no stranger to a professional setup. He had previously been an assistant coach with Adelaide United's Women, which ignited his desire to step up to the prominent head coach role.
After leaving the W-League side, Pezos moved to West Adelaide. In 2015, he led the club to first in the league, and they went on to win the championship, beating Adelaide Blue Eagles in the Grand Final 3-0.
Throughout that season, Hellas conceded one goal a game on average (26 conceded in 26 games) but scored two goals a game on average (52), highlighting the forward-thinking mindset Pezos has, an approach a team like Brisbane Roar has lacked during the 2022/23 season.
In 2017, Pezos took on a role with Adelaide City’s WNPL side. He also took over Adelaide United's Reserves mid-season, leading the side to a Grand Final triumph. In 2018 he began coaching the club's youth team.
After leaving the women's role at City, Pezos solely focused on his role with the Young Reds. But in December 2020, he returned to the Black and Whites as head coach of the NPL side. In his first season at one of the biggest clubs in the NPL SA, Pezos led the club to second on the table, winning the Grand Final and breaking an 11-year championship drought.
Last year, Pezos’ side secured the premiership by finishing first, scoring 55 goals in 22 games, again underlining his attacking mentality.
Pezos’ ambition to make himself a full-time professional head coach is clear. With his past success and experience, any A-League Men club could do worse than making him their head coach.
Perhaps the NPL's most exciting and up-and-coming coach, David Perkovic, is one to look out for in the new NPL NSW season. His North West Sydney Spirit side, which he has coached since 2016, currently sits sixth in the NPL NSW, claiming the massive scalp of Blacktown City in round three this season.
Perkovic has led NWS Spirit to two wins from their first four games as a promoted side. (LinkedIn: David Perkovic)
Perkovic has had a compelling career that has also seen him coach in the Philippines. His journey started back in 2011 when he was only 30 years old. He took over at Fraser Park for almost two years before becoming a professional manager for Kaya FC, one of the bigger clubs in Filipino football.
During his time in the Philippines, he led Kaya to fourth in his first season and third in his second season before moving back to Australia to take charge of St George City FC, later jumping ship to Mounties Wanderers.
2016 saw Perkovic move to the North of Sydney, becoming the head coach of Spirit, where he remains today. His first season was far from remarkable, finishing 12th in the second tier. Slowly Spirit climbed up the table each season, jumping to ninth in 2017, seventh in 2018, fifth in 2019, and second in 2020.
Eventually, Spirit was promoted from the NSW League One Men's competition to the top tier of NPL football after finishing fourth and conceding the second least amount of goals. Their journey to the top was a long process that Perkovic oversaw from day one.
He told the Front Page Football Podcast about his unique style of play back in January. Perkovic explained how he prefers to build up with a full-back inverted, creating a box-like midfield, one made famous by possibly the most excellent tactician in world football, Pep Guardiola.
Perkovic's bold style is unique in any club nationwide, from the A-Leagues and NPL competitions. He can provide confidence in his style and a high understanding of the game's tactical side, something Australian football has been criticised for in recent years.
Perkovic would be an excellent fit for any club as he could combine his philosophical ideas within a professional environment.
George Katsakis is a fascinating character in charge of his hometown club Heidelberg United in the NPL Victoria.
As a player, Katsakis represented the club in the National Soccer League, being elevated into the senior squad in 1985. After a stellar campaign, he won the NSL's Under-21 Player of the Year and earned a call-up to the Young Socceroos.
However, a leg break halted Katsakis from fulfilling his talent, forcing him to retire in his 20s.
Katsakis represented Heidelberg as a player before leading them to success as their first team manager. (Heidelberg United)
In terms of his coaching career, Katsakis has been the leading man at Heidelberg for a long time, overseeing more than 15 seasons as their head coach and winning everything on offer for an NPL coach, apart from the Australia Cup.
Three consecutive premiership wins from 2017 to 2019 elevated Katsakis' stocks. He also led the club to a national NPL title in 2017 and an NPL Victoria championship in 2018.
Along with the titles, Heidelberg has also embarked on some incredible Australia Cup runs, making the quarter-finals of what was then known as the FFA Cup in 2015 and 2017. They went one step further in 2018, reaching the semi-finals of the prestigious national cup competition.
Katsakis’ side has also been no stranger to a giant-killing after defeating Perth Glory 1-0 in the 2017 FFA Cup Round of 32. It was a game that highlighted the attitude of a Katsakis side, as Heidelberg outplayed Perth by having more possession whilst taking 16 shots.
Katsakis’ attitude to remaining composed and sticking to his style of play, no matter who the opposition, is an attitude many top-level coaches have. It's a mentality that often doesn’t get many plaudits, but another Greek-Australian manager uses this strategy in Ange Postecoglou.
Katsakis’ experience is a crucial attribute many sides in the A-League Men have recently lacked. Many clubs have opted for managers with excellent playing careers instead of assessing their managerial experience.
A Northern NSW NPL coaching veteran, Damian Zane is another coach who has achieved a mountain of accolades.
Starting at Edgeworth Eagles in 2014, the young coach brought immediate success, with back-to-back championship and premiership triumphs in 2015 and 2016, cementing himself as one of the best coaches in the NNSW NPL and across the NPL Australia-wide.
Damian Zane (right) tasted immediate success when he took over Edgeworth Eagles in 2014. (Jonathan Carroll)
Success continued for Zane in 2017 and 2018 as his team wrapped up the premiership, making it four first-place finishes in a row. They lost out in the Grand Final both years but lifted the championship for the third time in his five-year tenure in 2019, defeating premiers Maitland FC 1-0.
In the NPL Finals series, Zane’s side finished runners-up on one occasion in 2016 whilst also making the Round of 32 on four occasions.
FFA Cup results for Zane were also impressive, making the Round of 32 in 2015 against Melbourne City and only losing 2-1, with City having to find an injury-time winner. The result further proves how tough it was to face Edgeworth during this period.
2016 saw Edgeworth progress one step further to the Round of 16. They suffered a heavy defeat to a solid Western Sydney Wanderers outfit before they went out in the Round of 32 in 2017.
In 2019, Edgeworth defeated Darwin Olympic 3-0 in the Australia Cup Round of 32 before facing off against local A-League Men's side, the Newcastle Jets. Although they were again heavily defeated by A-League opposition, Edgeworth's efforts to make it that far whilst sometimes playing two games a week and still winning their respective NPL competition showcased Zane’s trust in rotating the side, giving youth a chance. This rotation led to then-17-year-old Archie Finn being thrown into the side to play against the Jets in that Australia Cup tie due to injuries and suspensions.
Zane could have filled the spot upfront with a senior attacking figure. But he instead showed his trust in his youth, similar to how current Central Coast Mariners head coach Nick Montgomery addresses his squad rotation.
Zane is now coaching the Jets youth team in the NSW League Two Men’s competition. He has openly stated that he aspires to coach at the highest level. Being a local Newcastle prodigy, transitioning into the Jets' senior role sometime in the future would be the best option for Zane, making the jump from semi-professional to professional much more straightforward.
Dean Ugrinic is another successful manager who brings with them years of experience within Canberra's football system.
He is currently coaching Canberra Croatia, and his time as a coach dates back to 2002. He has overseen some of the biggest clubs in the capital. He most notably won titles with Belconnen United, and the O’Connor Knights, whilst also leading Woden Valley to their first-ever finals run in 2013.
Dean Ugrinic was appointed Canberra Croatia's manager ahead of the 2020 NPL Men's season in Canberra. (Twitter: @officialNPLCF)
Ugrinic, like many other coaches on this list, is no stranger to coaching both a youth side by day and an NPL side by night.
He took over the Canberra United National Youth League team in May 2018. But his time there did not go as planned, losing seven of eight games and ultimately moving on.
In his first season in charge of Canberra Croatia, Ugrinic won the double, his side taking out both the premiership and championship. 2021 saw the club finish second on the ladder, with no finals series being played in the capital that year due to COVID.
Last year was another successful one for Ugrinic, his side finishing first in the league but losing out to Monaro Panthers in the Grand Final.
With a free-flowing approach, Ugrinic often brings in great strikers with a knack for being clinical. Thomas James is a name that many NPL NSW fans may remember from his tremendous spell at Wollongong Wolves. His move to NSW only came about after scoring 19 goals under Ugrinic, who allowed him to showcase his ability.
Ugrinic offers experience and a willingness to showcase his ability as a manager for any top-tier club looking to bolster its coaching ranks. With Canberra United being a potential expansion team for the A-League Men in the future, Dean Ugrinic has the local experience that would make him their ideal inaugural men's head coach.
Click here to read a similar listicle looking at four A-League Men players that would benefit from an NPL loan for season 2023.