Should Kevin Muscat really coach Victory?
As soon as I heard on February 17 that Melbourne Victory captain Kevin Muscat would retire at the close of this summer’s Asian Champions League, and instantly be given a two-year job alongside coach Ernie Merrick, my thoughts turned to that other classic hard nut of the English premiership, Roy Keane.
Both captains, both known to have a tiny bit of a temper at times, to play at the very edge of the game’s laws – and now both seemingly to be recorded in footballing history as senior club coaches.
When Kevin takes over the full-time reins at the Victory in 2012-13, will he actually be as good as Merrick?
If the success rate of players going straight into coaching ranks is any guide, perhaps not. Witness Michael Voss at the AFL’s Brisbane Lions. Club legend, coaching flop (for the most part in his rookie year).
At least Keane made his exit from Manchester United to get his coaching credentials elsewhere, although Sir Alex Ferguson apparently thought the Irish midfielder would’ve done an all right job anyway.
Ernie obviously thinks so of Muscat. In fact, he was quoted by Grant Bernard in Melbourne’s Herald Sun on February 17 as saying Muscat is “ideal”.
“He has got all the characteristics to make it,” Merrick said.
Fans on the FourFourTwo website were less convinced, with a mixed reaction to the announcement, to say the least.
One recommended Muscat flee the sport altogether. Another commended the Victory skipper as heroic, passionate and generous. All those things to some, no doubt.
The Keane references were already there, too, with a poster suggesting that Muscat’s entire coaching career could end up as a Kean-esque tragedy – starting off well before a sacking, and subsequent mysterious disappearance from football venues across the country.
The brick-solid backman Muscat will arguably – in the eyes of A-League supporters at least – have to contend with more than Keane, though. It won’t just be about him influencing a match on his own terms.
It will mean influencing a match through the use of 11 other blokes, and retaining some semblance of personal presentation off the pitch that reflects well on Victory as a club overall.
He won’t be able to run on and drag down an opponent with a flying tackle, or step up to take that extra penalty. All that will matter to the fans are results – and Muscat may find himself thankful that the A-League doesn’t have a promotion or relegation system as there is in England.
Muscat was quoted on the FourFourTwo website on February 16 as saying he knew he had his critics over the years, but considered his time in the sport to have been a successful one.
“What brought me that career was playing on the edge and that winning attitude,” he said.
“For that I’m not going to apologise. I don’t regret it. What I will say [is] that in trying to achieve more success, I’ve got to admit that I have erred.”
Cue footage of the crunching tackle he laid on Melbourne Heart’s Adrian Zahra back in January. Keane had is own similar style, including at least one (against Norway’s Alf-Inge Haland in the 2001 Manchester derby) that was later deemed so bad it was worthy enough to become the subject of a legal challenge by the English FA. Over an illegal one, as it were.
Let’s consider Keane’s later career, then, for a moment. Remember, only two years in age separates the men.
Keane’s coaching stints began with a bang, as he took Sunderland from the foot of the Championship (England’s second tier) into the Premiership within 12 months.
Not more than 18 months later, however, it was back to the bottom for the Black Cats. Barely the same amount of time passed with Keane at the helm of Ipswich Town, and he ended his touchline journey with dismissal by the Blues’ management at Portman Road, with relegation again looming for the second club in a row.
“Not for a moment am I going to sit back and think maybe I should have changed things,” Muscat said in his retirement press conference.
Perhaps it will now be the turn of other A-League coaches, rather than players, to be worried about Muscat’s touchline antics.
“I am who I am and I suppose that’s the way I’ll be forever,” he added.
We’ll know if Kevin has stayed true to these words come the end of this year…
KEANE v MUSCAT AT-A-GLANCE
ROY MAURICE KEANE (age 39)
Playing career: 18 years (Cobh Ramblers, Nottingham Forest, Manchester United, Celtic)
International honours: Rep of Ireland
Coaching career: Sunderland 2006-2008, Ipswich Town 2009-11
KEVIN VINCENT MUSCAT (age 37)
Playing career: 22 years (Sunshine George Cross, Heidelberg United, South Melbourne, Crystal Palace, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Rangers, Millwall, Melbourne Victory)
International honours: Australia
Coaching career: 2012 – ?
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