Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Victory the loser amid Muscat mess

More than just a few bytes have been consumed in the wake of Kevin Muscat's horror tackle on Adrian Zahra which marred Saturday's bristling A-league derby between Melbourne Victory and Melbourne Heart. At time of writing, the Victory's hardman's crude lunge seems likely to provide a coarse full stop to a career punctuated by a number of violent episodes.

As much as this incident has provoked vitriol towards the man himself, public opinion has also biased firmly against his club. In six seasons Melbourne Victory has established itself as the biggest club in the Australian A-league. Its support is the country's largest and its two titles are only matched by Sydney FC. Its star players such as Archie Thompson and Muscat have attracted as much media attention as any, while Ernie Merrick remains the only surviving A-league coach from season one.

The public statements by coach Merrick following Muscat's act via have been truly lamentable. Merrick forsook the opportunity to denounce Muscat and his action. Post-match he tediously grasped the "I didn't see it" defence before launching into criticism of the referee's performance. The next day he chose to defend Muscat's "professionalism" while bleating that Victory weren't the kind of club that played dirty. This simply provided a green light for the parading of a litany of violent acts perpetrated by Muscat and his team mates over a long period. Finally he had the sheer temerity on Melbourne radio to lambaste the management at Melbourne Heart who had by contrast conducted themselves with quiet decorum since Saturday's contretemps.

For Victory members like me, this has been a gut-wrenching time. For all his faults, Muscat has been a leadership figure at the club and contributed positively to its success. But for me that has been obliterated and more after Saturday. He was due to retire and now should immediately. But more than that the implied endorsement of Muscat by the club is a bitter pill for me to swallow.

In this its first season in the A-league, Melbourne Heart has genuinely struggled to find a point of difference, a unique selling proposition in marketing terms, for it to build a critical mass of support. Melbourne's size and sporting disposition should support two teams, but to date, notwithstanding an attractive squad (and the league's most attractive playing strip) Heart has managed gates often not much more than 6,000.

I'd reckon that after this week, Heart can afford to stop worrying. In a single blow (literally), Muscat - and by association his club - have kick started Heart's recruitment drive. There were over 32,000 at the derby on Saturday, by far the biggest gate for any game in the league this year, and far exceeding the combined attendances of both constituent clubs. For those casual football followers who fronted for the first time this season, there could be only one club that would have their support after Saturday's and subsequent events - and Victory is indeed the loser.


Stephen Hughes said...

Agree, basically everyone loses. Muscat is a blight on the game. At least we didn't have to put up with the media saying "well, he's just not that kind of a player" because he quite obviously is that kind of a player.
Violence like that doesn't belong in football, it breaks the rules, it endangers other players. In fact violence like that doesn't belong in society, full stop. A life ban, community service etc, that's what is needed.

Phil Hawkins said...

Unfortunately the penalties are (more or less) dictated by formulae, so Muscat gets eight weeks. We await his response - surely he won't appeal, but simply announce his retirement, although the prospect of an anti-climactic swansong in the Asian Champions League remains possible. In another sombre postscript Zahra has not avoided surgery.