Canberra White Eagles entered the 2023 season with high hopes of a return to the Capital Premier League top four, despite an array of personnel changes at the club.
Founded in 1992 by Canberra’s Serbian community, the football team has been extremely successful in Capital Football’s second tier, having won the title 7 times, as recently as 2019.
It is a club that will always draw admirers for their history and culture, and this is reflected by Assistant Coach and Technical Director, Goran Noveski, who joined the club ahead of the 2023 season.
“It’s one of the clubs where It’s family-orientated,” he said. “There isn’t much pressure, they love the game. It’s an ethnic club, it’s run by the Serbian community for which they’ve put a lot of effort in, and they want to put this club on the right track.”
Tasked with their resurgence was Angelos Zaris, who joined White Eagles following his success at the helm of Monaro Panthers, where his side won the U23 NPL Grand Final last year.
While his coaching experience primarily involved working with youth teams, Zaris proved himself to be adept at developing footballers to reach greater heights with many of his Monaro players receiving first team opportunities in 2023.
“Ange is pretty young in his coaching career,” Noveski said, in an assessment of Zaris. “He’s a pretty good coach, he has his philosophy, he knows what he is doing, I think he has a bright future if he keeps doing what he does.”
It is a philosophy that is well suited to White Eagles, and to Noveski as an assistant, as it embodies a desire to play modern football.
“He just wants to play on the floor, progress up the field, not kick and run,” he commented. “He’s that sort of coach where he wants to build from the back, he wants everyone to be involved in the game.”
In the previous campaign, White Eagles missed out narrowly on the top four and a finals position on the final matchday, although Noveski insists that the club will not be left lamenting over what could have been.
“Sometimes you need to accept that it’s not your year, it’s football,” he said. “You can’t always be first, and you can’t be winning every game, even the best clubs in the world, they fall down, and they try to come back.”
The task of rebounding in 2023 was always going to be a difficult one, with the club’s extensive player departure list proving to be a stumbling block before the start of the season.
Midfielder Ohio Asikhia headlined the losses, alongside the prolific Cuneyt Caglar, and outstanding defender Charlie Williams, who all brought experience and quality to the 2022 White Eagles side.
Whilst preseason signings such as Toni Angelkoski, Christopher McEwan and Tom Olson provided experience at CPL level, Noveski has expressed the difficulty involved with attracting replacement players that can maintain the quality needed for a finals push.
“It’s always a big challenge to attract players in CPL,” he said. “Especially here where it’s a family-orientated club, you can’t spend big when somebody is the president or vice president and they work voluntarily, you can’t ask them to fork out a lot of money.”
This makes the return of mid-season signings, in the talismanic Caglar, albeit under an injury cloud, and powerful midfielder Asikhia, very welcome, with the club struggling for points in 2023 and sitting bottom of the league after 11 games, despite notable efforts from Zac Lawrence and his 8-goal haul.
Overall, Noveski has not given up hope of a turnaround in the current season and has emphasised how White Eagles’ on-pitch efforts do not warrant their table placement.
“We’re struggling at this moment with points, but if you watch the games, I think we play good football,” he said. “Hopefully luck will start smiling on us.”
Despite the poor position of the club in 2023, Noveski is optimistic of a midseason renaissance.
Looking ahead to the rest of the season their goal remains unchanged from the start of the season, despite the amount of change at the club and the difficult first half of the campaign.
“Our goal this year is to get in that top four,” he firmly stated. “From this point you would think that it’s impossible, but a few wins in a row and you’ve closed the gap.”
Looking at their long-term ambitions, White Eagles have their sights set on a return to the top tier.
“In the future the ambition is to build the team so that they are ready to get promoted and play in NPL1. Especially for White Eagles, we want to be in that competition, the community knows that is where the club belongs.”
Words: Sam Watson