Rome wasn’t built in a day. Neither was the all-conquering Brisbane Roar. And it will be exactly the same for Ange Postecoglou’s new pet project, Melbourne Victory.
Friday night’s 2-1 derby loss to Melbourne Heart was a rude way to start the season as Victory struggled with all the new elements that come with their coach’s trademark style – playing out from the back, holding onto the ball and moving it, quickly but efficiently.
But by no means should it be a surprise. Which is precisely why it was so strange that it seemed to be one to Postecoglou himself – at least judging by his post-match remarks, that the side wasn’t rebuilding and that they ‘should’ve been ready’.
Perhaps he underestimated the task at hand. Maybe he overestimated the speed at which he can turn footballing coal into gold.
Or perhaps he has simply forgotten how his time at Brisbane really began.
It’s quite easy to gloss over his first 10 months in charge of the Roar because of what followed – two championships and a premiership – but it is important to understand just what it took and how long it took them to get them to the top.
He began that post in October 2009, after Frank Farina was unceremoniously booted. What followed were weeks upon weeks of teething problems as Postecoglou tore through his new squad to nut out which players suited his philosophy and which ones didn’t.
Liam Reddy, Craig Moore, Bob Malcolm and Charlie Miller were shown the door. Tommy Oar, Michael Zullo and Adam Sarota were sold. Sergio van Dijk set sail for Adelaide. But a lot of players who would take part in Brisbane’s future success were still there, and learning.
Brisbane ended the 2009-2010 campaign by losing five of their last seven games, finishing up just one point away from the wooden spoon and looking absolutely nothing like the team they would eventually become.
Postecoglou then had mountains of salary cap space and a full, six-month off-season to not only fill the vacancies, but to drill into the newcomers exactly what would be required of them.
Amidst all this, he stressed his team was under construction and that he should be given one full year before his work was properly judged.
On evidence of Victory’s first-up loss, he might again require a similar moratorium of assessment.
There were some amazing glimpses of quality in the final third. If there was any doubt, Marcos Flores still has that magical game-breaking ability that endeared him to the fans of Adelaide United.
His pass that released Archie Thompson, who in turn laid on the cross for Marco Rojas to score Victory’s breathtaking goal, was something to behold. As was his combination and improvisation work with his new teammates.
But by Flores’ own admission, he is a 70 minute player. Reds fans will say he always has been. Of the 29 starts he made for United in the 2010-2011 season, he failed to complete a full match on 17 occasions. That’s an awful lot for such a key man.
In turn, this means more will be asked of Guilherme Finkler, who probably just earned a pass mark for his debut performance.
Add in the fact that Postecoglou’s first substitution was Danny Allsopp, who struggled with the mobility and invention required to participate in such a flexible system, and all of a sudden it becomes clear that there are other, secondary combinations that need time to settle.
What needs work the most, however, is the defence – and more specifically, how it copes with the sort of immense pressure put on them by the Heart.
Postecoglou never had to plot against this level of incessant pressing in his first full season with Brisbane. At the time, their disciplined, possession-heavy brand of football was so new it was nearly a novelty in A-League terms.
But the competition has matured since then. After two years of Roar domination, other teams have started to do their homework – and the blueprint that worked against them last season needs only minor tweaking for it to cause Victory all sorts of trouble.
He still hasn’t quite figured it out.
It didn’t help that Jonathan Bru and Leigh Broxham didn’t support the back four enough by getting into positions to receive simple passes from defence. Overall, though, Melbourne’s rearguard never looked comfortable in possession.
Their apprehension allowed Heart to win the ball and then break quickly with long, direct balls into channels of space for wingers David Williams and Mate Dugandzic to run onto.
Fullbacks Matthew Foschini and Adama Traore also had a tough first outing under Postecoglou. It’s harsh to ride Traore – he is still only 22 years old and is a player of considerable promise – but he was not brought in by this coach.
He was snapped up by Jim Magilton when the Gold Coast United firesale first began, and was lured to Melbourne with a two-year deal. He’s also a visa player – which means with few other options, Postecoglou has to use him even though, ideally, he might prefer someone better suited to his plans.
If the coach irons out the creases in his game, Traore can become the best left fullback in the competition. But as we saw on Friday night, there is a long way to go.
The Ivorian flyer instinctively goes on bold, marauding runs from deep in defence, using his pace and strength to get into better positions. That’s fine when it works, but when he loses the ball halfway up the pitch against a team intent on counter-attacking, it puts his teammates in strife – this is precisely how Heart scored their first goal.
For all his attacking thrust he looms as a chink in the armour. But he is an unfinished player in an unfinished team.
And that’s the point – Melbourne Victory are an unfinished team. They have the best coach in the A-League, sure, but in the space of just a few short months he has staged a revolution in a football department that, not all that long ago, was completely and utterly dysfunctional.
For it all to gel together – and don’t worry, from the good bits of Friday night, it was clear that it will – then Postecoglou needs a bit more time. The Victory faithful should afford it to him, and let him do his work.