End of Muscat era harbours a new beginning in Melbourne’s A-League scene

End of Muscat era harbours a new beginning in Melbourne’s A-League scene

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Omni fine initium novum.

In English, the phrase – widely attributed to the Roman philosopher Seneca the Younger – roughly translates to the idiom that “every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end”.

Kevin Muscat, whose tenure with Melbourne Victory formally concluded at Saturday night’s Victory Medal, was there for the beginning of A-League football in Melbourne and went on to play an integral part not only the creation of the culture that surrounds Victory; but the A-League as a whole.

Muscat’s hard-nosed style which, yes, it must be said, did on occasion cross the line of what was acceptable on a football field, combined with an intense desire to win, fanatical work ethic and love for his club to shape just what the Victory badge means to every administrator, player, coach and fan.

So intrinsically connected did he become with the brand that, upon their entrance to the A-League, one of Melbourne Heart’s most effective pitches to on-the-fence fans was that the polarising Muscat wasn’t on their books – a selling point that lingers even to this day with Heart’s successor Melbourne City.

That intense hostility that Muscat generated in opposing fanbases spread around the country; helping to turn Victory’s meetings with Sydney FC and Adelaide United into some of the fiercest in the country. Few will forget then Adelaide United Head Coach John Kosmina’s infamous throttling of Muscat during the 2006 season.

One of the Victory icon’s greatest achievements – steering Victory to the 2017-18 A-League Championship from fourth position on the table – can even be said to have, by virtue of the chaotic nature of the butterfly effect, played a part in the departure of Melbourne’s other incumbent A-League Head Coach this offseason.

Had Muscat not engineered that unlikely run to the title, Warren Joyce’s Melbourne City – who finished third on the A-League table in 2017-18 – would have had a place in the Asian Champion’s League (ACL) in the season just gone.

A longstanding goal of City’s owners City Football Group (CFG), it is likely that Joyce would have found himself with increased resources at his disposal should he have had an ACL campaign to plan for, stretching perhaps as far as a Keisuke Honda – who was offered to every A-League club by the FFA ahead of the 2018-19 season – type recruit to the club.

Yet, as Thanos mused, reality is often disappointing.

Instead of leading City into Asia, Joyce presided a campaign that, despite the late season addition of Jamie Maclaren and Shayon Harrison, lacked the individual attacking flair to overcome his ruthlessly pragmatic and defensive approach; City ultimately crashing out of the first week of the finals after finishing in fifth.

Now, with Muscat and Joyce will no longer set to prowl the sideline of A-League pitches in 2019-20, both Victory and City are looking to quickly kickstart a rebuilding process in the face of a new challenger: Western United.

Keen to differentiate themselves from their two Victorian rivals – the lack of blue in their colours and recalcitrance to put Melbourne in their name two of the more obvious examples – United will enter a Melbourne market in which both their key rivals face questions of identity, a point raised by inaugural Head Coach Mark Rudan at his reveal on Thursday.

City, with just a lone FFA Cup crown inside the trophy cabinet of their men’s side, is a club without a Head Coach or, more importantly, heroes.

Those that could have potentially filled that void have, for one reason or another, failed to stick around in Bundoora: Bruno Fornaroli is in Perth, Aaron Mooy is in the Premier league, Daniel Arzani is in Scotland and Bart Schenkeveld is, at present, out of contract.

The club’s average home attendance was good for second worst in the league in 2018-19 and their fans, already grappling with just what it means to be a fan in the wake of a transition from Heart to City, are becoming increasingly disillusioned.

Though the cupboard is far from bare – the presence of Maclaren, a highly talented academy and the gargantuan resources of the CFG await City’s next coach – there is no doubt that the club’s next step is a perilous one.

This is perhaps why City have been taking it slow in the announcement of their next gaffer, with word out of Bundoora indicating that the club is approaching the appointment of a new coach – likely a European – with a great degree of care.

Across town, Victory, for the first time, face a future without their anchor.

Looking beyond Muscat, Japanese superstar Honda has now departed and captain Carl Valeri will from henceforth be taking up a role with the academy side.

Out-of-contract figures such as James Troisi and Kosta Barbarouses could soon follow Honda out the door while the future of Lawrence Thomas – who was benched by Muscat during the regular season – could be in doubt.

Like City, though, there are some positives for Victory.

Confident in their place as the A-League’s largest side, the club will spend enough money to equip their new coach with the tools to succeed and, in Ola Toivonen, they retain the best player in the A-League.

The Victory job is also one that carries with it a certain layer of attractiveness, with the club already fielding enquiries from a number of representatives around the world about the role.

Boosting City and Victory will be that Western United, too, will have issues they need to overcome.

It will be a number of years before the expansion side can move into their proposed stadium in Tarneit; forcing them to play out of Kardinia Park in their formative years in the competition. As Western Sydney Wanderers will be quick to tell you, the issues that come a temporary home can become troublesome very quickly.

There will also be the challenge of attracting fans to the new banner; both those previously attached to Victory and/or City and those in the West without an A-League side needing to be sold on just what makes this new entity worthy of their love and devotion.

There is also the small matter of on-field results as well, Western United needing to match it with City and Victory sides that are finals football fixtures.

In total, recent events mean that the slate for A-League football in Melbourne is the cleanest it’s been since the competition’s inception.

While the story of Muscat may have concluded, Melbourne’s three A-League sides are ready to write a new one.

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