Enjoy KEEPUP’s season countdown with our club-by-club previews. Scroll down to the foot of the page to access your club’s article.
It’s a season like no other for Melbourne Victory.
The Isuzu UTE A-League heavyweights head into 2021/22 as wooden spooners, a title never before owned by the Victorian side.
Making matters worse for Victory fans last season was the successes of bitter rivals Melbourne City, who stormed to the Premiership/Championship double after thumping Victory 6-0 and 7-0 on two occasions in 2020/21.
With the club at its lowest, the stakes have never been higher. Enter a raft of top-draw signings and a new head coach renowned for achieving instant success in the league, ready to produce one of the stories to follow in the 2021/22 Isuzu UTE A-League season.
Jason Davidson, Josh Brillante, Chris Ikonomidis, Matthew Spiranovic, Roderick Miranda
Dylan Ryan, Nick Ansell, Adama Traore, Rudy Gestede, Callum McManaman
Head coach: Tony Popovic
Isuzu UTE A-League coaching record: 199 games, 88 wins, 49 draws, 62 losses
Melbourne Victory’s biggest signing of the off-season is poised to leave his mark not from on the pitch, but from the technical area.
Back in the league after a one-season absence, Popovic will be eager to bring instant success to Victory just as he managed in his first season at Perth Glory and Western Sydney Wanderers, lifting the Premiers Plate on both occasions.
The Victory boss lifted Perth from an eight-placed finish in 2018/19 to the Premiership the following season, and with former Glory players Chris Ikonomidis, Matthew Spiranovic, Jason Davidson and Nicholas D’Agostino all joining him in Melbourne the blueprint is there for Popovic to lead a Victory resurgence of similar magnitude.
But coming from the very bottom of the table is a different story, and with City leading a strong pack of worthy contenders for silverware, returning Victory back to the top may just be Popovic’s greatest challenge yet.
Can’t take your eyes off: Chris Ikonomidis
A fully-fit Chris Ikonomidis is a very powerful weapon for Victory to have at their disposal. Recovered from an ACL injury suffered in early 2020, the 26-year-old is flying toward the new season buoyed by his return to the Socceroos fray in October.
It was Popovic who helped the lively forward re-launch his international career off the back of his brilliant performance through the 2018/19 Isuzu UTE A-League season in Perth. Now the pair are reunited once more, with Ikonomidis eager for the Victory boss to help raise his game to yet another level this season.
Reasons to be cheerful
There’s one positive to winning the wooden spoon: there’s nowhere to go but up. At the midway point of the 2020/21 season, it was clear the remainder of the campaign was something the Victory players and fans alike simply had to endure, to celebrate the little wins and turn full focus to a better future.
That future has now arrived, with memories of the pain turning into a positive tool for motivation. There’ll be a hunger about this Victory team; a chip on the shoulder which provides an extra level of desire which clubs in a current state of success simply aren’t able to access.
Aiding the cause this season is a raft of stellar signings. Real Madrid youth product Rai Marchan is joined by former Wolverhampton Wanderers central defender Roderick Miranda, along with experienced Australian midfielder Josh Brillante.
Heading out the door the other way were the likes of Dylan Ryan, Rudy Gestede, Callum McManaman, Jacob Butterfield and Elvis Kamsoba; players who helped define an uncharacteristically poor season by the club’s high standards.
With the deadwood cleared and a raft of incomers ready to relish working under their battle-hardened head coach, it’s clear that Victory are up for the fight in 2021/22.
… and reasons to be fearful
Can Victory fans stomach another season living under the shadow of Melbourne City? It’s not a position anyone involved in the club is accustomed to, but after the complete dominance of last season, and the recruitment of Socceroos forward Mathew Leckie, Patrick Kisnorbo’s side have signalled their intentions to get even stronger.
Victory’s eagerness to enact rapid change is evident in the club’s aggressive off-season recruitment, but how much mental scarring do 6-0 and 7-0 Melbourne Derby losses and a wooden spoon have on a club so accustomed to success – and how long will the effects last?
Fans’ eye – Tarni Tsimeris
Why I believe: I’ve been a football fan since my early teens, and I grew up in a very small town in NSW. Following Greece in the ‘04 Euros, watching World Cups, it was almost done in secret; you’d just watch at home with your family, not many people supported football.
The first Victory game I went to was at Docklands in 2015. I marched toward the game with the Victory fans and stopped at the train station there, and heard them all singing our chants. I just thought ‘this is the club and the atmosphere for me’, it was just so unique.
It was that first game where I saw what the fans did. I thought ‘this is my energy, these people love football as much as me’ – that’s why I belong at Victory.
Who we believe: Chris Ikonomidis is the standout. I’ve been down at AAMI Park frequently watching the guys train in the morning when I can. I’d say all the players have shown fantastic energy, but when you see Chris play, the results speak for themselves. I just think he’s one of the missing pieces of the puzzle we needed.
The other one I’m looking forward to seeing, and I know the fans are divided by this, is Robbie Kruse. Last year he was fantastic when he got the ball and had a lot of attempts on goal but I don’t think he had the support he needed. I’ll be very curious to see how he goes with different players around him, and not having the weight on his shoulders of a club that was struggling.
The magic of matchday is: As soon as the season is announced, the first thing I do is put all of the games into my calendar. Anything else that happens in my life has to fit around the games. I always warn my friends and family ‘these are the games, and unless something crazy happens I’m going to the games’. That’s how the season starts for me.
Game day with Melbourne Victory starts when I wake up; it’s all I’m thinking about. I wander down to Swan Street when we’re at home playing at AAMI Park, meet up with people I’ve known since 2015 and have the opportunity to meet new fans too depending on who comes along. You might have the pleasure of seeing some of the travelling away fans, and have a bit of banter with them on the way.
I’m always in the active area. I feel like if I’m sitting and not making noise, that somehow we’d lose because of that. I do feel like I need to chant the whole way through and never stop.
If I could change one thing about the club… I would love to see the active support area being General Admission again, giving people more accessibility to bring their friends and family along to the active area and experience it for themselves.
OUR ISUZU UTE A-LEAGUE SEASON PREVIEWS
By Tom Smithies and Matt Comito
Adelaide United: Can Veart steer them into the decider?
Brisbane Roar: Will the local lads surprise again?
Central Coast Mariners: A renaissance or brief ray of sunshine?
Macarthur FC: Attack looks great, but who replaces the veterans?
Melbourne City: Can anyone stop the champions?
Melbourne Victory: Can Popa resurrect the fallen giant?
Newcastle Jets: Can Papas find success with another overhaul?
Perth Glory: Are box office Glory title contenders?
Wellington Phoenix: Can the ‘Nix thrive early doors based in Wollongong?
Western Sydney Wanderers: Will Robinson rise to expectations?
Western United: Will more ‘Dia’ magic help United bounce back?