Australia Day, 2014 and the Melbourne Victory are in crisis. If losing 5-0 in Wellington the week before was not bad enough, they had just suffered the indignity of being walloped 5-0 again – this time by rivals Sydney FC on their own turf.
The revolution was falling apart. Manager Ange Postecoglou had left for the national team and star midfielder Mitch Nichols had gone to Japan, leaving a gaping hole in the 4-2-2-2 formation bequeathed to Kevin Muscat.
Leigh Broxham and Mark Milligan could still control the centre. Archie Thompson and Kosta Barbarouses could still roam the wings, with Connor Pain and Andrew Nabbout as reinforcements. But who would start up front alongside James Troisi?
Enter the wunderkind. Victory bounced back by reeling in one of Australian football’s rising stars, one we thought (and hoped) would be beyond the A-League’s reach for the next decade – Tom Rogic.
Problem solved? Hardly.
In fact, a study of the twelve games Victory has played since Rogic’s signing (not including the Australia Day debacle), show that the solution to their problems was one of their own. That is, Brazilian Gui Finkler, who in the second half of the season has turned from supersub to superstar.
Finkler’s performances off the bench had seen him demand a starting spot. James Troisi was one of the league’s top scorers and demanded a spot. Rogic had been signed to play. As the quickest of the three, Troisi vacated the middle for the wing, and the problems began.
Finkler and Rogic may be more skilful than Nichols, but they are slower. No game showed this more than the Melbourne Derby, when a hungry Heart tore the Victory to shreds. Finkler and Rogic couldn’t get near it, nor could they feed the ball out to their speedy wingers.
Successful Victory teams have always moved the ball with pace, but this version was in danger of grinding to a halt. Unluckily for Rogic, his last month has been cruelled by injury. But allowing Finkler and Troisi to combine once more may just have saved the Victory’s season.
In five games in which all three started, the Victory won three and lost two. The five games with a Finkler and Troisi combo have produced four wins, one draw and zero defeats.
In addition, a Finkler and Rogic combination started in a 2-2 draw at Newcastle, with Troisi off the bench. Another Finkler and Rogic combo led the Victory to a 1-1 draw in Perth.
So Tom Rogic started seven matches. He was substituted in six and played a total of 481 minutes – about 75 per cent. The Victory scored 12 goals in these matches, though only seven came when he was on the field.
Victory scored once every 69 minutes with Rogic on the field, without him they scored once every 30.
In those five undefeated games, they have scored 13 goals at roughly 35 minutes a pop. They put three past both Western Sydney and the Central Coast, and two past Sydney last week.
Indeed, all 13 goals have been scored with both Finkler and Troisi on the pitch, with six between them. The Victory has seemingly rediscovered the edge they lacked with Rogic on the field.
Obviously, it is never good to see a young man struck down by injury. The Australian football community hopes that Tom Rogic will be back up and running in no time and taking on the world’s best in Brazil. But if the Finkler and Troisi combo conquers Brisbane against the odds on Sunday, Kevin Muscat might be thanking his lucky stars.