He’s regarded the world over as one of the true hard man of the game but, on Monday, Kevin Muscat shed tears.
Melbourne Victory had revealed earlier in the day that Muscat would not be returning to the club in 2019-20, his final game in charge of the club that has come to define him, and he it, to take place on Wednesday night against Sanfrecce Hiroshima in the Asian Champion’s League.
Famous, and infamous, for his intense physical style as a player that unfortunately too often did cross the line – England striker Peter Crouch once proclaimed him the only competitor he ever feared – Muscat came to define Melbourne Victory upon their entrance to the A-League in 2005.
As a player, Muscat quickly established himself as club royalty: a part of two A-League Premierships, two A-League Championships and the recipient of three Victory medals whilst lacing up the boots.
Indeed, so closely associated with the Victory brand was the polarising Muscat that one of Melbourne Heart’s biggest selling points upon their entry into the A-League was that they didn’t have the hard man on their books.
Hanging up his boots in 2011, Muscat promptly moved into an assistant’s role with Victory, first under Ernie Merrick and then Mehmet Durakovic, Jim Magilton and Ange Postecoglou – with a stint as interim boss after the sacking of Durakovic.
Postecoglou’s departure from Victory for the Socceroos post in 2013, though, finally paved the way for Muscat to be named as the permanent boss of Victory.
Since that time, Muscat has steered the club to a further A-League Premiership, two A-League Championships, an FFA Cup title in 2015 and the A-League Coach of the Year award in 2014-15.
Flanked by Victory Chairman Anthony Di Pietro and CEO Trent Jacobs, Muscat was visibly emotional as he fronted a packed AAMI Park theatrette to personally announce his departure.
“You’ll have to bear with me because after 14 years this has got the capability to get a bit emotional,” he said.
“I’ve decided to step away from the football club after discussions and great support from everybody involved at the club. Wednesday night will be my last game.
“After 14 years I’ve been at the club I certainly look forward to that game on Wednesday like any of the previous games.”
It was at this point emotions began to overcome Muscat, with the hard man visibly having to fight back cheers and his voice cracking on several occasions.
“Although this is clearly an emotional time, I’d like to look upon it as a time of celebration,” he continued.
“Celebrating what we’ve built together, celebrating what we’ve achieved together, celebrating 14 strong years together and the success that we’ve earned together.
“To all the players that I’ve played with at the club, to the players that I’ve coached and to all the staff that I’ve worked with thank you wholeheartedly.
“From my time as a manager at the club, Trimmers [Paul Trimboli] and Anth [Anthony Crea] you two guys have been with me the whole journey.
“Everybody in the office, as you can imagine there’s been a few comings and going over 14 years, thank you for all your support… in dealing with me and having to put up with me over a long period of time.
“To our members and fans… where do you start?
“You’re unbelievable passion and support, not only for me but for our great football club has been unprecedented. We’ve shared many great memories and earnt many great memories together and for that I thank you.”
His thoughts then turning to family, Muscat could at this point not hold back the tears.
“To my family,” he said, voice cracking.
“It’s funny because James (Muscat’s son) was… I carried him into this room when I first joined the club and now he walks in towering in over me. Goes to show how times have changed.”
Bringing superstars Ola Toivonen and Keisuke Honda to the club in 2018/19, much was expected from Muscat in the most recently completed A-League season; the attacking talent assembled under his command one of the most well-credentialed ever seen in the A-League.
Handed a collection of new toys, Muscat ushered in a fresh attacking style to commence the season; switching to a midfield diamond with Toivonen and Kosta Barbarouses deployed up front.
However, despite that promising start with this new approach, Victory was unable to overcome a myriad of injuries that prevented the side from gaining any sort of cohesion; Toivonen, Honda, Raul Baena, Carl Valeri and James Troisi all spending stints on the sideline at critical junctures of the campaign.
Finishing third at the end of the A-League’s regular season, any hopes Victory may have held for an unlikely run for the title in a similar vein of 2017-18 were dashed when, after a 3-1 win over Wellington Phoenix in the elimination finals, Muscat and his men were thoroughly dismantled by arch-rivals Sydney FC to the tune of a 6-1 semi-final thumping.
That defeat, though, didn’t provide the impetus for the shakeup in the Head Coaching role, with Muscat admitting that Monday’s events had been in the pipeline for a while.
“I meet with the board monthly and meet with the chairman regularly and over a period of time, we’ve had some discussions,” Muscat said.
“The decision was finalised in the last few days.
“The truth of the matter is, it’s maybe intuition, I’ve just got a feeling that after 14 years that the time’s right. I just feel that the time’s right for a number of reasons.
“It’s great that I can sit here, and we walk out of the room having a celebration, we walk out amicably rather than the press just receiving a release because we can’t sit in the same room together. That’s just how I feel.
“What’s next? I don’t really know at the moment. I’ll take the time to go on holiday and that’ll give me an opportunity to really focus on what is next but at this point in time, there aren’t any of those plans in place.
“Being involved in football all my life, initially you’re sceptical to say I’m going to be here for 14 years because of the volatile nature of the game, I’m realistic.
“But after a short period of time, I was confident that I’d be here for a long period of time-based off the relationships I was building and, more importantly, the fabric of the people that are involved in the club.
“That’s why sitting here today after 14 years isn’t easy.
“I’m grateful for everything, the undivided support I received through that 14 years. Because I’ve learnt doing things on your own is impossible, especially in this team sport that we play in. It takes an unbelievable, huge team effort and a lot of support and hard work.
“That’s a true fabric of what’s been created here at Melbourne Victory.”
Victory Chairman Di Pietro himself was visibly emotional at times during the conference, declaring Muscat to be an “incredible character” that will “forever be a part of the football club”.
Though recalcitrant to provide concrete details, the Victory Chairman did offer a few insights into what comes next for the club.
“The process isn’t starting today,” Di Pietro said.
“It’s been ongoing. We’re well placed.
“Clearly with these things, we’ll look to appoint as soon as we can. (But) It’s got to be the best possible person.”