JUST how did the cash-strapped, bottom-of-the-table Mariners pull off the A-League coup of the season by luring former Barcelona, Liverpool and Atletico Madrid star Luis Garcia to Gosford?
Very happy to be joining the Central Coast Mariners, An exciting challenge for me to play in the Hyundai A-League. pic.twitter.com/eG4rfEWoUB— Luis Garcia (@LuchoGarcia14) January 16, 2016
A glowing character reference from none other than Steven Gerrard sealed the deal, but the ball was set rolling by the Club’s physio Andrew Nealon, who spent two seasons from 2010 working at Liverpool.
Asked to get hold of Garcia through his Liverpool network, Nealon, who worked with the Australian Legendroos during their exhibition match against Liverpool Legends, was suddenly given a direct line to Garcia.
“I got in touch with a good mate of mine, the head physio over there (at Liverpool), and asked how we could go about trying to make contact with Luis,” Nealon said.
“He just texted me back his number.
“Last Monday night, I literally cold-called Luis in Madrid and explained who I was, said we had a few mutual friends at Liverpool from his and my time there and explained a bit about our club and what makes it such a great place to be.
“I said we had a bunch of young players and we could do with his guidance on and off the pitch.
“He didn’t say no, which was quite surprising.”
Garcia, 37, then gave Nealon his agent’s details and Nealon passed those on to Central Coast coach Tony Walmsley, chief executive Shaun Mielekamp and owner Mike Charlesworth.
They worked tirelessly to sort out the details but, understandably given Garcia’s age of 37, and the fact he’s been retired for two years, they requested one more favour from Nealon — a character reference.
“I got in touch with Steven (Gerrard) and asked him his thoughts,” Nealon said.
“He couldn’t speak highly enough of Luis as a guy on and off the field and emphasised that once we make the point to Luis that part of his role is to be a mentor to what is a very young squad and provide that guidance, he thought that would really make him far more likely to join us.
“I asked Steve for a few lines and he sent me a text speaking of Luis’s character.
“The message described Luis as a top professional, a great lad and everyone will love him. He couldn’t think of anyone better to be a mentor.
“I forwarded it on with the words, ‘Will this do?’ And it came back, ‘Yeah, it should do’. That just gave them (Charlesworth, Mielekamp and Walmsley) the confidence to take what was really a pie-in-the-sky idea and make it reality in a really short space of time.”
Less than a week later, and with the financial help of the Mariners’ major sponsors Masterfoods, Rebel Sport, Universal LED and Westfield Tuggerah, Garcia is on his way to Australia and may even feature for the club against the Wanderers this weekend.
Luis Garcia's first match in Yellow & Navy
Saturday 23 January 2016
Match: Central Coast Mariners vs. Western Sydney Wanderers
Venue: Central Coast Stadium, Gosford
Kick-off: 7:30pm (AEDT)
TV Broadcast: Live coverage on FOX SPORTS 505
Radio Broadcast: 96.3 Coast FM
Twitter: Join the match conversation using #CCMvWSW, #CCMFC & #GarciaIN
Want to be INvolved? Here are some key links
Central Coast Mariners vs. Western Sydney Wanderers tickets: http://bit.ly/1UiW3AI
Central Coast Mariners six game Membership pack: http://bit.ly/1NclC0S
Central Coast Mariners Commercial Opportunities: http://bit.ly/1OUAvKI