Melbourne Victory: Australia’s greatest club with déjà vu on its mind
Been there, done that. Melbourne Victory continues to enjoy sustained success in the A-League28 February 2019 | Stuart Thomas
Former rep tennis player & golfer, former high school teacher & now full time sports writer
As sure as day turns to night, Melbourne Victory linger somewhere near the top of A-League tables.
It is something they have done since the inception of the newly branded domestic competition in 2005-06. It is also the reason opposition A-League clubs value their scalp more than any other in the league; such is the feeling of satisfaction after a win against the Victory, particularly at AAMI Park.
After something of an unlikely championship win in 2017-18, the Victory have been forced to rebuild, as they have done so well, so many times before.
When Kiwi Marco Rojas departed for Holland early in 2017, questions around creativity and quality in the front third were raised. Rojas produced football of the most magical kind at Victory and his combination with Besart Berisha was, at times, unstoppable.
However, just as the Victory had done when their inspirational and all-time goal scoring record holder Archie Thompson left the club in 2016, they would strike back immediately.
After a wonky and un-Victory like start to the 2017-18 season, Kevin Muscat sparked his men into action. Berisha was inspirational and new talent in the form of Terry Antonis and Thomas Deng played key roles, both late in the season and during a semi-final run that began from fourth place on the ladder.
For four seasons in succession, Berisha had topped the Victory goal scoring, knocking in 68 goals past opposition defences. His move to Sanfrecce Hiroshima left a hole, that filling, would be a considerable challenge.
Sure the legs were ageing, yet when a moment presented itself, there was never an A-League finisher with the quality or consistency of Berisha.
The vacuum created would need to be filled and the chances of a like for like replacement were slim and none. Throw in the rather bitter departure of Leroy George, who left with his negative opinion of the A-League plain for all to hear, and the stresses of precise and effective recruitment would surely have kept Muscat up at night as the search began.
Photo: Melbourne Victory (love the dog!)
In the end the Victory pulled the right reins, with Keisuke Honda’s arrival announced with much fanfare and the Japanese’s start to the season bordered on ridiculous, as he pulled the strings in the Victory attack.
Sadly, his season was interrupted by injury. Now that he has returned, be prepared for a recommencement of his early season form, especially considering how well the entire squad has managed in his absence and the sparkling play of James Troisi and Kosta Barbarouses.
Less noticeable was the arrival of Ola Toivonen. The only thing Australian fans needed to know was that the big Swede had scored at the World Cup. That created some interest - but then we saw him play.
Ten goals in 13 games speaks volumes, yet it is the mastery of the lay-off, the precision of passes and the subtlety of his flicks and redirections that have impressed the most and left pundits in no doubt as to the identity of the classiest player in the competition.
Similarly struck down by injury, Toivonen is also back and close to starting again as the arrowhead of the Victory attack.
It is an attack that bulges with options. Barbarouses is in rare goal-scoring form, Troisi has shaken off Graham Arnold’s refusal to invite him on the Asian Cup adventure and Antonis is enjoying a break out season.
Despite Georg Niedermeier’s brain fade against cross town rivals Melbourne City in last Saturday nights derby, the 1-1 result said more about the starch that holds up the walls at Melbourne Victory than many of their more comfortable results.
With ten men and a goal down, City were presented every opportunity to finish the job and re-ignite their own faltering season. They failed.
Not so much through any horrendous play of their own, more due to the courage and persistence of a Victory team playing with a desperation and determination that made their manager proud.
Although, should we be surprised? It is just the kind of performance we would expect from the winning-est team in A-League history.
Three Premier’s Plates and four A-League Championships are the envy of the league. Only Sydney FC comes close with their three, yet the sustained consistency of the Victory is unrivalled.
The club has not missed finals play since 2011-12 and in that time has amassed 88 A-League victories and 43 draws from a total of 182 matches.
This season, like last, sees Victory with a very juicy carrot dangled before them as the Perth Glory career into the distance. Last season it was the dominant Sydney FC.
If they are able to replicate the run home of 12 months ago, it will most likely be led by Honda and Toivonen, and it will be astonishing to watch.
Melbourne Victory have something special, something everyone else wants, and now ... another shot at A-League glory in 2019.
melbourne victory, a-league