In demand ... Celtic-bound Tom Rogic with Graham Arnold. Photo: Getty Images
TOM ROGIC has all but finalised his move to Celtic after agreeing to a 4½ year deal with the Scottish giants but Central Coast Mariners say they have already discovered his long-term replacement in youth team star Anthony Caceres.
Rogic's transfer to Celtic will be finalised once the 20-year-old returns to Australia to secure his British work permit. The Mariners deny his departure has signalled the end of their production line as they prepare to hand a full debut to Caceres.
The sale of Rogic has opened a window of opportunity to blood the promising midfielder they believe is as talented as Rogic. Caceres, 20, has excelled in the Mariners' youth academy and has only been denied senior football due to a freak elbow injury and the consistent performances of the senior players this season.
''We've got so much faith in Anthony that it's not funny,'' assistant coach Phil Moss said. ''If the team had not been performing the way it had and been top of the table then Anthony would've played a long time ago. He's waited patiently and given us sleepless nights, particularly Arnie [Graham Arnold] with selection headaches every week. Now the opportunity is there and he'll let no one down, he's a fantastic talent.''
Caceres does not have the physicality or towering presence of Rogic but the diminutive midfielder has natural ability on the ball and an understanding of the game that could maintain the Mariners attacking potency.
''He probably brings a slightly different dimension to Tommy [Rogic],'' Moss said. ''They are not the same player but technically they're both excellent players and Anthony sees things around him. He sees the small picture, he sees the big picture and, technically, he's capable of bringing players into the game.''
The young midfielder will have no shortage of experience surrounding him when he walks out at Bluetongue Stadium for the first time against Newcastle on Saturday night. He will start behind a veteran strike force of Daniel McBreen and former Socceroo Mile Sterjovski.
''It's his debut, it will be a very big night for him and something he'll never forget but it wont make or break his career. We just hope he enjoys it and plays his own game,'' Moss said.
McBreen sang the praises of Caceres after their final training session on Friday morning. ''I'd say that even with Tommy [Rogic] here, he's got the best feet, 'Cass' [Caceres] has the best feet in the club,'' he said. ''His touch on the ball is immaculate and he's only young so we're not going to put too much pressure on him, we just want him to go out there and enjoy himself and do what we know he can do.''
The match will be a chance for McBreen to showcase an attacking partnership with Caceres that has developed throughout the season during training. ''He's been there obviously all year. If it wasn't for the success of the team so far this season then, I think he would've been playing earlier because he's been really good in training,'' McBreen said.
Arnold will not be on the sidelines on Saturday night after being slapped with a one-match touchline ban following his outburst at referee Jarred Gillett last week. Moss will take the reins in the first test of his managerial career. ''I've got aspirations to be a head coach but I've got no rush. … I can't tell you how much I learn from Arnie every single day,'' Moss said.