The A-League’s saga to get its three Victorian clubs out of coronavirus-hit Melbourne is poised to reach its conclusion.
According to the stats, this Melbourne Victory side are the worst in club history.
After 18 games of the regular season, no Melbourne Victory side has ever lost as many as nine games, or 50 per cent of their league fixtures. With four measly wins, it is the joint worst from this perspective.
All the numbers point to the worst team in their 15-year history, however if you look at the players individually, the list is not so bad. The problem was the personnel who departed last year and who they replaced them with.
It is not uncommon for A-League clubs to see a pre-season mass exodus, although it’s less common at Victory. But even compared to recent years at the Mariners or Wellington, last winter at the Victory was extreme.
Firstly, the head coach Kevin Muscat departed. He had been either captain, coach or manager of the Victory in every season since its inception, a man almost synonymous with the club.
Following him out the door was Carl Valeri, the lynchpin at the base of their midfield since 2014, spanning almost the entire time that Muscat was in charge.
It’s not a coincidence that the one season where he missed half of the games through injury was Muscat’s poorest regular season (2015-16) such was his importance to both breaking up play and starting attacks.
Then the three players sitting in front of him throughout 2018-19 were Terry Antonis, James Troisi and Keisuke Honda. While Honda was a little more unique and quite difficult to find a direct replacement for as he didn’t always play in the centre, there was a lack of focus not replacing the former two.
Troisi as the main central play-maker and Antonis as the box-to-box drive in the middle of the park have been crucial to how they set up and their structure.
The initial three signings of unknowns Jakob Poulsen, Migjen Basha and Kristijan Dobras was hardly inspiring, and it is a real stretch to call any of them marquees, despite Poulsen’s Danish caps. All play central positions but none of them have set the world alight, so much so that Leigh Broxham has often revised his midfield role to provide more impetus in the centre.
But not one of these three men are in the same stratosphere as Valeri, Antonis, Troisi and Honda. Aside from Dobras’ goal against Western United, his main contribution were his hand movements to the pre-season GIFs. He has since left.
Poulsen has been very underwhelming. Basha has been the only player that has slotted in and offered some physicality, and while he is no Valeri, he is a less polished and more pitbull-like replacement are the base of the midfield.
The question, then, is why are there so many holes in the middle of the park?
The answer is because Victory’s pre-season and then mid-season strategy was to sign up wide attackers. They lost Kosta Barbarouses to Sydney, and replaced him with Robbie Kruse, Andrew Nabout and then Marco Rojas. Throw in Elvis Kamsoba’s emergence and the squad is extremely well-endowed in that position.
The problem is that none of these wide players can perform what Troisi did from the middle of the park with his vision, nor offer the industry of Antonis.
The Jets game was no exception with Marco Rojas asked to perform these duties, and this is not his strength. He is a player who should play to the left or to the right instead of Kamsoba or Andrew Nabbout, but this season has effectively been about trying to put square pegs in round holes.
People have blamed Marco Kurz and soon may blame their new coach Carlos Pérez Salvachúa, but fans need to look at the higher levels of the club to assign this accountability.
Victory have eight games to save their season and will need to win seven out of eight of them to stand a chance of finals.
Ultimately, while looking at this team on paper, this is not the worst squad in their history, however the stats do not lie and poor recruitment has led to this being the worst team after 18 games.
Their focus should be to secure an attacking central midfielder at the end of the season to use in their Asian Champions League Campaign because that is all they have left.