John Aloisi is on the verge of a redemption story he thought would never be possible.
If Western United win Saturday's A-League Men grand final against Melbourne City, it will complete Aloisi's turnaround from the coaching wilderness to champion.
Aloisi was emotional after Saturday's comeback semi-final win over Melbourne Victory sealed his first grand final berth, admitting before the expansion club took a punt, he thought another chance at the top level in Australia might have passed him by.
After all, he'd had a disastrous first job at Melbourne Heart, then by his own admission, went on a year too long at the end of a successful stint at Brisbane Roar.
He'd even been out of the coaching game since departing the Roar in 2018, working in the media while focusing on his development.
"It is an emotional roller coaster because when you're out of a job and then going for jobs, you don't know when it's going to happen or when it's going to come along again," Aloisi told AAP.
"It is hard. Anyone that says it's not would be lying because you (have) so many different things going on in your mind.
"You don't just want to take any job, you also want to get the right one because you know that you need the right one to make it work."
When United came knocking, it was barely a year after Aloisi had received his latest setback.
Aloisi was heavily linked to the Melbourne Victory head coaching role in 2020.
It ultimately went to then-interim Grant Brebner, whose ill-fated time at the helm lasted less than a year, and Aloisi returned into coaching obscurity.
Then United, in the doldrums after the second year of Mark Rudan's tenure went sour, came calling.
Backing Aloisi in July 2021 prompted a mixed response, given his lack of silverware.
But so far, it's paid off.
"I don't mind critics because I'm always gonna get criticised for whatever. But it's when they influence the decision makers (that's frustrating) and that's when I was getting a little bit pissed off about it," Aloisi said.
"I was going 'interview me, see if I'm the right person, don't worry about what the general public is saying' because there's going to be people that like me or dislike me.
"That's why I was grateful that Western United gave me this opportunity because I had that belief that if, wherever I went, it was the right place, that I'd be able to make it work.
"(People say) things always happen for a reason and maybe they do, at the time you don't feel it, you don't realise.
"But this has definitely been the right opportunity for me because they're very ambitious like I am and they want success like I do."
At Western United's Tullamarine headquarters this season, the change in atmosphere has been palpable.
Ben Garuccio originally played under Aloisi at Heart as a kid and has delighted in their reunion a decade later.
"He was my first professional coach. He's a good person first and foremost and I think that's something that he's come a long way with, with the way he is around the players," Garuccio said.
"He's a really approachable coach, you can go and speak to him. He's fair enough and all he expects from us is that we follow the structures within the team and nothing too much more than that.
"As a player, it gives you that freedom to go and play your game, you know you're not going to get barked at if you make a mistake. He understands that, he was a player himself.
"It's a great place to come every day and I think that's why we are in the position that we are."
When Aloisi signed, there was one player, his former Brisbane goalkeeper Jamie Young, he was determined to bring along.
"I said 'come on Youngy, we've unfinished business. We've been through a lot together and let's go all the way this time,'" Aloisi said.
Young, 36, has been one of the best goalkeepers in the league this season, pulling off multiple clutch saves, including one extraordinary effort in the elimination final against Wellington.
He's got no regrets about rekindling their partnership down south, either.
"I'd love us to win for John because he deserves the credit," Young told AAP.
"He's put the time in and effort and he's had the ups and downs, like Melbourne Heart, and it just shows that when people go through difficult times like that, they can still go and achieve.
"He's still willing to put his reputation on the line, because he believes in what he's about and as a player that inspires me. You want to win for people who are willing to put their necks on the line."
So what would that maiden coaching triumph mean to Aloisi?
After all, he already has arguably the most significant moment in Australian football: that penalty against Uruguay in 2005 that ended Australia's World Cup drought, plus a plethora of other playing achievements.
"It's different as a player because as a coach there's so much more that goes into it," Aloisi said.
"Look, if we win on the weekend, it would probably be as big as something that I've ever been involved in.
"Because knowing from where it's come from, and all that hard work in the meantime, and then not knowing whether you're going to be coaching again.
"To be able to get to where we are, when really, when you put it down to everything else, we shouldn't be. But that's a credit to everyone in the club and the playing group especially."
Australian Associated Press
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