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‘I still have that fire inside’: Milligan wants to coach – and play on

“But I have a very, very strong interest in the coaching side of things. Now I’m getting closer to that transitional period and it fogs my judgment and makes that decision a little bit harder.”

Milligan, who retired from international football last year, had not made a decision on when he would hang up his boots when the outbreak hit. To an extent, it is out of his hands.

Southend were in the thick of a relegation dogfight, sitting second last on the League One table – only five points clear of Bolton Wanderers, who had started the season with a 12-point deduction – when play was stopped last month.

Nobody knows when it will resume, and there is a chance that the season may not recommence, with FIFA’s medical chief urging all competitions to forget about the current campaign. That may actually spare the Shrimpers from the drop, but it might not bring Milligan any clarity. His planned farewell on home soil at the Football For Fires match has also been scrapped, for now.

Mark Milligan (left) with Michael Beauchamp at the announcement of the Socceroos squad for the 2006 World Cup.

Mark Milligan (left) with Michael Beauchamp at the announcement of the Socceroos squad for the 2006 World Cup.Credit:Getty Images

The veteran midfielder signed for Southend in July with a view to a possible combined playing-coaching role in the 2020-21 season. But the coach who brought him to the club on those terms, Kevin Bond, resigned in September, and Milligan has essentially had to start again under his replacement, Sol Campbell, the former England, Arsenal and Tottenham defender.

“Since Sol came in, that’s been a little bit tough for me,” Milligan said. “I had to really fight for my position in the team again, which I have no problem with; I still have that fire inside, I still had a point to prove to myself.”

Milligan is one of just six players who have been stood down – or furloughed, in the English parlance – by the club in response to the pandemic. Chairman Ron Martin deliberately targeted Southend’s highest earners in the belief they would be better equipped to handle the crisis than those at the other end of the food chain.

Milligan now finds himself with plenty of time on his hands, but he’s using it wisely, studying and reading as much as he can, and pondering whether or not he should return to Australia when everything settles down.

The idea of coaching has tickled Milligan’s fancy since his days at the AIS, and he says he has picked up insights from every manager he’s worked under, from Pierre Littbarski at Sydney FC to Ange Postecoglou with the Socceroos.

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“I like the research part of the game, the statistical and tactical,” he said. “I’ve always had interest, but I’ve never really had time to delve into that kind of stuff.

“It’s probably reaffirmed it to me … but I don’t want to look back in 10 years knowing I might have had a good year or two left in playing.

“That journey [coaching], it’s a long one, it’s not something you just jump into. It is, ultimately, starting again. That’s what’s in the back of my head.”

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