Fan view on Victory’s ‘radical’ 17-year first and the ‘hole we’ve never filled’

On KEEPUP, we won’t just be hearing from the ‘so called experts’. We want to showcase what you, the fans, are talking about. To kick us off, Dave Srhoj, a contributor to the For Vuck’s Sake podcast, dissects Melbourne Victory’s quest to finally fill their Kevin Muscat-sized hole. 

We’re quite used to hitting the reset button in Australian football. The national league and many of its clubs over the years have gone back to basics several times. The rebrand of the A-League (along with the W-League and Y-League) into the A-Leagues in 2021 represents yet another notable shift in trajectory. 

Not at the country’s biggest club, though. There’s never been the need to go back to square one at Melbourne Victory. Not until now, that is. 

This off-season, Victory has embarked on the most radical overhaul in its 17-year history. While many A-League Men’s clubs have had clean-outs with their playing rosters and back rooms this off-season, the Victory have undertaken a knock-down and rebuild of which principal sponsor Metricon would be proud.

The rationale isn’t hard to grasp – the past two A-League Men’s seasons have seen Victory put together a total of 11 wins from a possible 52 games, and finished second last and last in the past two seasons. Victory fans have endured the club’s worst period in its history. 

The decline coincided with a final break from the club’s founding cults of personality. Ernie Merrick and Kevin Muscat were integral to the club from a leadership and culture-setting perspective. Season 2019/20 was the first season in the club’s history where at least one of those two individuals were no longer there.

While there are many reasons for Victory’s recent decline, a Kevin Muscat-sized hole was never properly filled. Four different managers in the space of two seasons is perhaps the most illuminating sign of the instability that befell a club once the envy of the rest of the league. Since the arrival of Melbourne City and now Western United, the perception has been that complacency set in – even, that an insular “boys club” mentality had taken root.

To be fair, Covid has meant many of the clubs in the A-League have been cautious on and off the field in the past two seasons, and Victory have been the exemplar of this. In retrospect, this was understandable amid the transition to a new broadcast deal and separation of the Leagues from control of FA.

This conservative approach has stuck in the craw of many Victory fans these past few seasons. But with a new TV deal set in stone and COVID-affected seasons behind us (hopefully), signs of optimism are emerging with longer term deals being offered for both players and staff.

From top to bottom, the club has transformed itself in the space of a few months. While ownership of the club still remains tightly controlled by majority shareholders Mario Biasin and Anthony di Pietro, during the bin-fire of the 2020/21 season, a small percentage of shares were sold to fans as part of a sale instigated by wantaway director Richard Wilson. 

CEO Trent Jacobs departed, with Caroline Carnegie taking the reins and immediately enacting fan friendly changes, not least of which the decision to bid farewell to Marvel Stadium. The precision of the club’s off-season “Who Are We?” marketing campaign also served to rebuild the club’s identity, reaffirming its status as the flagship club in Melbourne, for Melburnians.

The appointment of Tony Popovic in July of this year marked the first, and most significant, series of changes in the football department. The club acted swiftly to secure the services of a man who many see as one of the most accomplished football minds in the country. The recruitment of John Didulica as football director followed. If you’re a Victory fan, you know how rare it is for Melbourne City alumni to be welcomed with open arms; such is the credibility that Didulica brings as a football operator in this country.

The club’s playing stocks have been almost entirely replenished. A strong core of accomplished Australian players have arrived in Brillante, Špiranović, Davidson, Ikonomides and Geria, which is being complemented by a refreshed foreign legion (barring Marco Rojas). There is a sense of a new identity within the club. The football hippocampus of it all, however, is found in the duo of Popovic and Didulica.

Melbourne Victory’s revamped squad aims for glory under Tony Popovic.

With the Victory rebuild about to be tested in season 17 of the A-League, there is one outstanding piece of business that needs to be settled: a permanent home of the club’s academy program. 

In 2019, it seemed that the Footscray Park plans were a fait accompli until a political campaign under the guise of concerned dog walkers and NIMBYs scuppered that ambition. While it is understood that the club is inching closer to finalising a new site, for a club of Victory’s size and influence in the league to be behind rivals on this front remains perplexing and frustrating for fans.

Any announcement on the beginning of a formalised, bricks and mortar assembly-line will further please fans and almost complete the rebirth narrative. 

Almost. The job won’t be done until there is one final essential ingredient added to the rebuild. Silverware. 

Dave Srhoj is a contributor to the For Vuck’s Sake podcast.