Reggie's multicultural skills help Spirit reach new heights
WESTERN Spirit is hoping to reach new heights when the Ipswich club makes its Brisbane Premier League (BPL) debut this weekend.
As first-time head coach Reginald Yaqub finalised his squad for Saturday night's season opener at home, he was starting his higher level aims working from the back.
Co-captain Jose Fernandez has been linking well in the pre-season with another experienced and tall defender in Tyler "Thor" Baker.
"I'm looking for that height domination at the back,'' Yaqub said, preparing for Saturday's 6pm encounter against UQ at Kippen Park.
After being vice-captain last year, centre back Fernandez is sharing this year's co-captaincy duties with attacking midfielder Stefan Vrbesic.
Vrbesic is a high quality recruit who joined the club last year.
Fernandez is preparing for his third season with Spirit having battled a series of knee and hip injuries in recent years.
"I hope to complete a full season this time around,'' Fernandez said.
"I'm feeling good this year.
"I've just had a good pre-season, gone through all the games so far.''
After replacing last year's mentor Mario Malesevic, Yaqub has quickly got down to business assisted by last year's successful Reserve Grade coach Nev O'Sullivan.
Having observed five trials and two FFA Cup clashes, Yaqub said his team was ready to launch its BPL quest having come up from Capital League 1.
"As for the top side, we're pretty happy where we are at the moment,'' Yaqub said.
With 90 per cent of last year's squad back and some players still to strengthen the club, the head coach was optimistic about the season ahead.
"I'm excited not only for myself but all the boys as well because they all want to play higher level,'' Yaqub said.
The former Brisbane Knights under-20s mentor was looking forward to every opportunity working with well-travelled Ipswich coach O'Sullivan.
Fijian born and bred Yaqub played at a high level in his home country before a knee injury forced him to give up football.
He linked with last year's coach Malesevic at the Brisbane Knights before rising to top team coach at Spirit.
Liverpool supporter Yaqub uses his international experience to advantage dealing with the ever-increasing diversity of people playing football.
"Coming from a multicultural country, it makes it easy for me as a coach to get to know all the boys that are here - the Africans and other races as well,'' he said.
Yaqub said Fernandez was appointed for his leadership and knowing the players from past seasons.
"He gets along with the whole team quite nicely and fits in with the boys as well,'' the head coach said.
Fernandez said the team was starting to gel.
"It's a very young team but very hungry and spirited,'' he said.
Asked about the importance of playing in the BPL, the co-captain said his players were primed.
"For sure,'' Fernandez said. "It brings some great motivation and pride to the players.''
Fernandez, 33 this year, previously played BPL with Brisbane Knights after a stint with Taringa Rovers in 2007.
"I've been around the game a little bit,'' he said.
Co-captain Vrbesic plays in centre midfield, fulfilling vital defensive and attacking roles.
Fernandez and Vrbesic played together at Brisbane Knights for a few seasons.
"We have a bit of chemistry there and understanding of what we want on the pitch,'' Fernandez said, happy with the shared leadership arrangement.
"It definitely helps.''
Fernandez started his junior football in church league with El Savador Soccer Club until he was 15 before moving to the Brisbane Soccer District competition with Inala City and Brisbane Force.
"I'm still enjoying the game at the age of 33,'' he said.
As for senior player Baker, nicknamed Thor, his second season with Spirit has added appeal.
"They are a good bunch of boys, very much a young team coming into the season but a lot of talent,'' Baker said.
The centre back said the BPL provided an incentive to showcase their skills.
"Definitely,'' he said. "It's a big step up but it should be good.
"It's good to see the boys all training together.
"We've had a really good pre-season and everyone is blending really well so it should be good moving forward.''
Baker said having a settled squad would make a huge difference this season after the team struggled in 2019.
"It was more just getting the core of the squad together last year,'' he said.
"It all fell apart the year before. There's a fair few boys that have stayed on from last year and I think I've got a very good core group moving forward.''
Baker previously played at the Brisbane Knights where he worked with Yaqub for three years.
"He's very positive, good, clinical and he's about the boys which a lot of coaches aren't these days,'' Baker said of the head coach.
"It's more about tactics and club and stuff but he still takes a lot of time out to build the boys.''
Saturday's main game at Spirit's Kippen Park base is at 6pm.
Yaqub saw UQ play in a FFA Cup against the Stormers.
"So far from what I've seen, they are pretty young and very mobile as well so it will be a good game for us,'' he said.
The Spirit Reserves play at 4pm.