If it hadn’t already become clear how important Tom Rogic was to the Central Coast Mariners, then the image of him alongside the three marquees for the A-League’s launch established that, instead of signing an experienced and notable celebrity, Arnold would be placing his faith in youthful exuberance.
Rogic needed little introduction to A-League viewers – he burst on the scene in January this year as an exciting playmaker in the Mariners’ surge to the Premiers Plate. The season ended disappointingly for the team, but there was much hope in the slender, mesmerising figure that had carried the burden of creativity at the dip of the Mariners diamond, a role formerly reserved for Mustafa Amini. That the diminutive playmaker, who was on loan from German champions Borussia Dortmund, was displaced from the starting line-up (save for the Major Semi-Final against Brisbane) speaks volumes of the level of Rogic’s performances.
When Amini returned to his parent club at the end of the season and there was little movement for creative players in the transfer window, it became clear that Arnold was going to place Rogic at the heart of his plans, and Rogic’s three starts so far this season signify that elevated role.
Yet the Mariners have experienced a mixed start to the season with a win, draw and a loss, and Rogic is yet to record a goal or an assist, but more tellingly he failed to assert himself in the first two matches of the season (before a good game against Newcastle, which will be discussed later). It must be remembered that he has made just sixteen appearances as a professional following his well-documented rise as one of the winners of Nike’s ‘The Chance’ competition, where he was one of eight finalists out of 75,000 entrants, with his only previous history of top-level football coming from his time in the Futsalroos.
Style of play
Rogic’s futsal background is clear in the characteristics of his play. He possesses a supreme awareness of space, and those around him, able to use his lanky figure and superb ball control to elude close attention and protect the ball. But one of his main skills, his creative passing, is prompted by the movement of those around him and looks to play clever passes into space, as well as quick one-twos to ghost in behind. Therefore, he is reliant on the movement of those around him, and his early struggles may be linked to the Mariners switch to a 4-2-3-1 formation.
While this seemingly ubiquitous formation presents great benefit defensively with the two midfielders able to screen the back four, with a static playmaker like Rogic, it places a burden on the wide players to storm forward beyond the lone striker and provide support. Mile Sterjovski has been ever-present on the right flank and prefers to link up play rather than motor into attacking positions, while selection on the left has been less consistent: against the Wanderers, Michael McGlinchey was conservative, moving inside frequently and preferring to play calm passes into midfield to maintain the rhythm of the Mariner’s passing game. Against Perth Glory, Bernie Ibini was clearly unsure of his role, often found sometimes too deep, sometimes too wide, and sometimes too narrow.
Therefore, Rogic was clearly inhibited by a lack of support, and often resorted to difficult through-balls to the fullbacks which were largely unsuccessful. It would be unfair, however, to suggest that Rogic’s troubles lie squarely on his teammates: simply, he underperformed as well. In the first two games Rogic came up against two deep midfielders who prevented him playing goalside in dangerous zones between the lines. Aaron Mooy and Mateo Poljak were superb for the Wanderers in cutting off passes being played to Rogic, while against Perth Glory he was given close attention by the notoriously physical Jacob Burns.
The problem also stemmed from his movement – Rogic was fairly static, rarely drifting to the wing or dropping deep to evade his markers. That made it easy for opposition midfielders to simply sit deep in front of the defence and prevent him from operating in his favoured positions, and when comparing his passing chalkboard from the match against Perth Glory thanks to the Once Football app, you can see how Rogic was pushed away from the final third and forced into ambitious forward passes, generally towards the massed centre, of which only five were accurate – three of these came down the flank and two from within his own half.
But then Rogic turned in a much-improved performance against the Newcastle Jets, where he enjoyed greater freedom both because of Newcastle’s open game and because of Jobe Wheelhouse’s combativeness, as the Newcastle captain was constantly drawn up the pitch into rash challenges, most notably for Rogic’s superb slamooning run midway through the first half.
Rogic was far better here, making smarter runs and ghosting in out of positions to drag Newcastle’s midfield out of shape. He took great advantage of Newcastle’s exposed space between the lines, as demonstrated in the image to the left. He doesn’t receive the ball during the play, but his movement is more intelligent and illustrates a far more perceptive understanding of exploiting the opposition. If Rogic were to receive an admittedly difficult pass in this zone, he would be able to run directly at the central defence as is, you could say, is his trademark.
Consider his passing chalkboard for this game:
Here, the green arrows immediately suggest Rogic’s improvement, but to focus on pass accuracy would be poor analysis. Rather, it is interesting to note how Rogic has rarely attempted passes through the centre here, focusing instead on spreading the play wide and bringing the Mariners fullbacks into the attack and thus stretching the active playing zone.
Rogic has received a wide range of praise and acclaim for his exciting midfield play during his short time in the A-League, but consistency and fitness are clearly his major barriers. How he performs against the Heart this weekend will be intriguing: Richard Garcia and Matt Thompson have formed an impressive partnership in midfield and whether Rogic can find space on either side of the duo will be the game’s key battle.
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