With Mark Rudan and Western United finally able to drop the pretences surrounding their courtship, both parties are now keen on firmly establishing themselves as the third player in the Melbourne A-League scene.
The worst-kept secret in Australian football, Rudan was officially presented as the expansion side’s new head coach at the side’s new offices in Truganina on Thursday morning; the club revealing the 43-year-old had signed a three-year-deal.
“The deal is three years.,” United Football Director Steve Horvat said during the conference.
“There’s no get-out clause, we’re joined at the hip here. This is really a partnership between Mark and this football club. He’s going to be integral in developing the vision and the culture in this group.”
Culture was the big buzzword of the Rudan reveal, with both the coach, Horvat and United CEO Maurice Bisetto frequently emphasising just how important the creation of a culture would be for the nascent club.
Receiving his first shot at the professional game in 2018-19 with Wellington Phoenix, Rudan was widely credited for turning around the culture of the traditional A-League easy beats in his time across the Tasman; taking charge of a run that saw them play finals football for the first time since 2014-15.
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s a unique situation or a position to be in,” Rudan said. “It’s one that excites me.
“Having a look into the people involved at the football club, we’re talking about a club that’s hugely ambitious. People involved in the club who have been involved in the game for decades, so they are proper football people, building their own stadium.
“It was just an opportunity that couldn’t be passed up. To be the first head coach of the side is something that genuinely excites me. To think that you’ve got a blank piece of paper where you can create what you want.”
In revealing Rudan, United, despite not having kicked a single ball in anger, are the only A-League side in Melbourne with a head coach.
Victory said goodbye to club stalwart Kevin Muscat earlier in the week whilst Melbourne City gaffer Warren Joyce was let go after two years after a first-round finals exit to Adelaide United.
With, in theory, both sides forced to scramble to find a new Head Coach until the proper process of offseason movement can take place, United have been gifted a head-start on their Melbourne rivals in the 2019 offseason.
“Absolutely,” Rudan said when asked if this was a golden opportunity for United.
“I’m a head coach and my job is to put together a team, win games and play a certain style of football, but the amount of work that has gone with Maurice, Steve and Lou (Sticca), behind the scenes… they are working tirelessly to make sure that now we have got a little bit of a head start.
“I think it’s quite unique anyway the fact that we are starting a new football club but to think that we have got a bit of a head start, that excites us.
We’re not going to take the foot off the pedal anyway. We understand how hard it is going to be.
To get into the market and to get people behind us knowing that we are in this position now, I think we are in a good place.”
He then went on to fire the first shot across the bow of his two new Melbourne A-League rivals.
“One thing the league lacks is a proper derby type of atmosphere (in Melborne).
“I’ve watched Melbourne Victory against Melbourne City, and I don’t really feel it, as opposed to up in Sydney. There is a clear divide in demographic up there.
“That’s what we possess right now. We’re very clear on who we are and what we represent. That’s the west part of Melbourne, all the way from the west gate bridge.”
Seated Rudan’s left, Horvat went on to emphasise the points of difference that United was keen to play up between themselves and Victory and City.
“I don’t think we want to mirror anything (about United’s rivals), we want to be our own brand and have our own identity,” he said.
“What has been mentioned before is the opportunity we have, and I love how we all talk about opportunities, it’s not making excuses. The opportunity we have, we have a distinct demographic.
“Victory came in from day one and had the whole Melbourne market.
“Melbourne Heart came in, previous to their incarnation as Melbourne City, and tried to then pickpockets of regions that Melbourne Victory didn’t really have a good stranglehold on.
“They didn’t really have a clear territory or an identification. They trained at a few different places and still played at the same venue
“Our philosophy from day one was if we couldn’t build a stadium and have that as part of our bid proposal to the A-League, we weren’t interested in, in an A-League license, because that is fundamental to what we’re trying to create. We’re trying to create home.
“The one uniting thing is the game, the game that so many thousand people love in the West, and it’s growing at an incredible rate.
“I could point to a number of clubs, you could look outside of this window that are growing hundreds of participants year on year, community clubs.
“That’s our demographic. We want to embrace, we want to grow the game in the West. That’s really our mantra, from the community clubs to the NPL clubs to our club.
“That really should be our philosophy: let’s grow the entire game, make the region proud of what we’re trying to do.”