Inside Victory’s plan to return to the top – what they’re doing ‘for the first time’ & inspiration from Brazil

This week on A-Leagues All Access it’s Bruno Fornaroli like you’ve never seen him before. From his humble beginnings in Uruguay, a friendship with Luis Suarez and a Socceroos debut, he shares the stories of his journey from Montevideo to Melbourne.

It may be early days but the signs are promising in Melbourne Victory’s rebuild. The club’s Director of Football John Didulica speaks with to detail how the men’s side are aiming to surge back up the standings this season.

Six months ago, in the bowels of AAMI Park, Tony Popovic took the podium for the final time in the 2022-23 season.

Melbourne Victory had just suffered a 1-0 defeat to Brisbane Roar in their last game of the regular season, which ensured one of the Isuzu UTE A-League’s biggest sides would finish 11th in the standings.

It was their third bottom-two result in four seasons. It was far from where they and many outside the club expected them to finish before the season begun.

In the waning moments of a disappointing season, Popovic made clear what the next step was.

“We have to reflect on the season, which we will. Have a break and we’ve got to come back bigger and better and get this club back to the top.”


Fast forward to October and hope springs eternal at Victory once more.

Popovic’s side kicked off the season with an impressive 2-0 win over Sydney FC. Yes, they started last campaign in the same vein, against the same opposition, at the same venue, but something felt different about the manner of the result.

The steely resilience in defence – which never really left last season – was back. The midfield had another dimension with the arrival of Ryan Teague, while the attack played with an edge and speed not seen in quite some time.

It comes after a pre-season where the club opted to stick with their established core, made up of savvy veterans, Socceroos and established A-Leagues talent, while sprinkling in a few new arrivals along with some of their prime performers from Victory’s promotion winning NPL side.

This may not have been the most headline grabbing off-season in the club’s history, but it was one that was executed by Victory’s brains trust with clarity.


“Sometimes when you’ve had a chance to review individual decisions and about how they have worked in that year, you can then make a really considered attempt to ensure you don’t make similar mistakes,” Victory’s Director of Football John Didulica told

“But equally you don’t want to have a situation where you’re over correcting or throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

“So for us, it’s about, as it was last year and the year before that, about being as methodical as possible. Not taking what we consider to be unreasonable risks and certainly that’s shaped a lot of our work.

“What’s also been great for us is the ability to have spent the last two years working hard on our academy. So we’ve been able to really invest in some really talented young players and we’ve brought in, I think, five new players from the academy this season.

“But they are guys that have been in and around the first team for a little while now. They’re comfortable playing in the victory shirt, not overwhelmed or overawed about playing for a club like Victory.

“They know exactly what it’s like because they’ve been here as kids and have worked with the first team players now for a couple of years, so that’s exciting.”‘

Last season, Victory were marred by inconsistency, long-term injuries and recruitment misses.

The ‘Vuck’ lost an equal season-high 14 games, despite having the league’s fourth best defence (34 conceded) but conversely the league’s worst attacking record (29 goals).

Key players such as marquee signing Nani, 2022 Johnny Warren Medallist Jake Brimmer, Jason Geria, Rai Marchan and Matthew Spiranovic – who ended up retiring in January – missed plenty of games due to injury, meaning they were forced to pivot with their starting group for much of the season.

But the most glaring issue was in attack. They would find themselves in within a chance of snaring points, but they – quite simply – couldn’t score.

Socceroo striker Nick D’Agostino departed half-way through the season to sign with Norwegian club Viking, leaving their attacking stocks even more depleted, while Tomi Juric only played a handful of games.

Bruno Fornaroli ended the season as the club’s top goalscorer with seven goals after arriving from Perth Glory during the campaign, but no other player on Victory’s roster scored more than three league goals.

This was something the Victory hierarchy pinpointed as an area of focus in the off-season.

“I think one thing we certainly needed to add to the team was some dynamic spark in the front third,” Didulica said.

“We had (Marco) Rojas, he did a great job for us a couple of years ago and then we lost Nani last season pretty early on. We lost (Jake) Brimmer midway through the season. So you lose two of your key playmakers, and it can sometimes be hard to replace those sorts of players very quickly.

“This year we’ve made a real effort to bring in players like (Daniel) Arzani and Zinedine Machach, who are both incredibly creative, proactive, positive players that we’ve got no doubt will excite the fans and then you’ve got ‘Jakey’ (Brimmer) coming back who’s almost like a new signing.

“So you’re bringing in three offensively minded, proactive players into the team. I think that’ll that’ll be a real positive for the season coming and then surrounding those guys with the tried and true presence of Bruno (Fornaroli) up front and then you got guys like (Chris) Ikonomidis and (Ben) Folami and Nishan Velupillay has come on in leaps and bounds, and Eli Adams has come on in leaps and bounds.

“We have really focused on that dynamic, mobile, front three or front four coming into this season.

“I’d like to think we’re better positioned to kill games off than we were last year and I think even though our final position on the ladder last year was unacceptable and disappointing, lot of our matches were very close.

“In most of our games, the raw data had us as having being the quote, unquote better side, but when you don’t finish chances, when you don’t create clear opportunities, when you don’t put away moments when you’ve got the ascendancy, you pay the price and that happened to us at different times last season.

“Now we’ve got the overall firepower to do that.”


In other cases, some football clubs would essentially do what Didulica and co sought not to do, in “throwing the baby out with the bath water”.

It’s easy to forget that Victory’s core only just over a year ago took them to Australia (then, FFA) Cup silverware, and within a game of an A-League Men Grand Final.

There was enough reason to suggest that they had the foundations in place to build a successful squad, especially when you look at how level the playing field is in the 2023-24 season.

“There’s always a risk in seeking to overcorrect, so you need to be mindful of that,” he said.

“If you’re looking at things rationally and looking at probabilities, the more new players you bring into a squad, the more likely you are to make errors, because there’s an inherent, strike rate when you’re bringing in new players.

“Whether it’s 0.5 or 0.6 or 0.3 the more of those you’re bringing in, the less likely you are to have collective success. I think from our end, we tried to be as rational as we could and and identified what the priorities were.

“Just basic data around entry into penalty areas, shots conceded on all these sorts of metrics. We should have been a team that was closer to the top than to the bottom.

“Ultimately, the game is about scoring goals, and we recognise that where we were lacking is, just having more options and more fluidity and more versatility in the front there. Sometimes we left it to too few, and I think we’ve brought in talent, that’s not just exciting but can address those deficiencies.

“We have eight players who can give us the dynamism that we probably lacked last season. We go into the season confident in the squad that we have and the support that we have around that squad.

“I hope that we can, not just hope, but trust that some of the things that didn’t go our way last season both on and off the field don’t repeat and we can have a more consistent season and one where you can get compounding outcomes week on week.”


Along with having immediate success, Victory have importantly looked to shore up the future, with a strong focus on improving pathways through the club’s academy.

Franco Lino, Jordi Valadon, Joshua Inserra and Christian Siciliano all earned senior contracts, with three of them coming through the club’s academy. Valadon – on the other hand – made his debut last season after coming across from City.

Victory’s academy – from top to bottom – thrived in 2023, headlined by the promotion of their senior academy side to Victoria’s VPL1 (formerly, known as NPL2 Victoria), where they will play alongside Melbourne City and Western United’s youth sides.

A lot has been made of the club not bringing through, or playing, young talent over the journey in comparison to some of their rivals, but that focus has shifted.


“In the last two years that’s been a real focus of ours, to get as as much talent into the club as possible,” Didulica said.

“Then complement that with having the best possible coaches to develop those players and ensuring that those players and coaches are also connected to Tony (Popovic) so when an opportunity presents, he can almost close that loop or close that circle if you like… talent ID into development into opportunity.

“We’ve spent two years doing that and I think we’re in a really good place in that regard. We got promoted in the Under 23s, which is great. We were premiers in the 14s, 16s, 18s and 20s which is great.

“Victoria won the 15s and 16s of the National Championships, and we had 21 players across those two teams, so that’s been that’s a real plus for us now.

“During the pre-season, I think we had about 10 players from our 16s and 18s playing first team games. There’s a considered effort to ensure that the players we’re building from the bottom up, as much as just trying to bring in players at the top end.

“Guys like Franco Lino, Josh Inserra, just turned 18 in 2005, and they’ve done incredibly well since joining the club, and the five players elevated from our NPL team last season, I think is a great credit to the coaches at that level and the way they’ve been prepared.

“Joe Palatsidis and Roddy Vargas did such a great job really getting those players ready for the first team football and now Tony’s got every confidence in those players otherwise we wouldn’t sign them.

“We’re really optimistic about what these players can do, and I think we know clubs around the world is our big, I won’t say a competitive advantage, but certainly our club needs to be anchored not only in trying to outbid people for the best talent, but it’s also to make sure that we’re developing our own.

“I think probably for the first time we’re doing it now at Victory.”

For Didulica, personally, he was able to spend a couple of weeks in the off-season at Brazilian side Vasco da Gama, a sister club of Victory through them both being under the 777 Partners umbrella.

It helped provide him with insight into the differences and similarities between Vasco and teams in Australia, especially when it comes to their development pathways.

“Anyone who’s been to Brazil just gets an appreciation… of the country and their culture in football,” he said.

“It always fuels our own passion, to see the depth of love of our game and Vasco is such a proud club. They were the first club in Brazil to actively field black players and be proud of it and refuse to back down.

“So seeing how steep in history they were again just reinforces the important role that a club like Victory has in driving the game forward in Australia.

“At that foundational level, it’s always inspiring to see that… I got to spend times from the under 6s all the way up to the first team and the one thing that always occurs to me, is we have great players here in Australia, and the only difference is probably the depth of talent.

“The top three or four players at Vasco might only be marginally better than the top three or four here, but they get to have a squad full of stars. So, player number 20, they’re still batting pretty strong.

“Through necessity, we have a lot of players who are at the back end of that squad, so young players are emerging and they still have a lot of growth, but equally in the youth levels, watching their 8s, 10s and 12s is wonderful and their 18 and twenties, but there’s nothing there that I don’t see at times, in our own young players.

“I always get enthused and energised when I get back about what the possibilities of football in Australia might be and the possibilities of our players, because the best of our guys are as good as anywhere in the world.

“We just need to give them the right development, the right opportunity, the right competition structures, the right pathways to be able to unlock their own ability and and excellence.”