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  • Writer's pictureCaydn Foley

How Melbourne Victory can revitalise their squad for next season

It was a season to forget for Melbourne Victory, with the boys in navy blue failing to make the A-League Men finals. The club is now looking ahead to 2023/24 to try and get back to the level it expects to reach.

Luis Nani failed to live up to the hype this season before picking up a season-ending ACL injury.

At the start of the season, many pundits believed Victory had a good chance of being crowned champions after they fell short in 2021/22, knocked out by eventual champions Western United in the semi-finals. Then there was a significant buzz for Victory fans when the club announced the signing of Manchester United icon Luis Nani on a two-year contract.

But that excitement quickly waned when Tony Popovic's side only managed three wins from their first ten games. Things went from bad to worse for the club when the second Melbourne Derby of the season was abandoned when a faction of violent Victory fans stormed the pitch and attacked Melbourne City goalkeeper Tom Glover. It led to the club being hit with a massive $550,000 fine and a suspended ten-point deduction that will hang over their head for the next three seasons. Then, three weeks after the derby incident, their marquee signing Nani suffered a season-ending ACL injury during a 1-0 loss to Brisbane Roar.

Off-field issues mired the club in controversy this season.

However, Victory fans should not worry too much, as their club could return to the upper echelons of the table with only a few changes to the squad.

Victory’s NPL side has been dominating this season, currently top of the table after eight games with only one loss. Some players in that squad look ready to have a role in the first team, especially William Wilson and Jordi Valadon. Wilson has been underutilised this season by Popovic, where he has only been sparingly used off the bench. Valadon has scored three goals for the NPL side this season and recently debuted as a substitute for the first team. Last season, Valadon played for Melbourne City during their Asian Champions League campaign. He looked like a solid player with genuine promise, should he accumulate more experience playing against senior opposition as he ages.

Another young prospect contracted to Victory is Eli Adams, who joined the club at the beginning of the season on a scholarship contract after graduating from Brisbane Roar's academy. Adams can play across the final third and score goals when called upon. Scoring goals was a problem for Victory this season, so Adams should be able to showcase his ability next season. In the past, he drew attention from numerous European clubs such as Greuther Fürth, FC Basel, and Hannover 96.

Apart from giving opportunities to their youngsters, Victory also needs to recruit better in the transfer market and sign some experienced players who can help take them back to the lofty heights they should be at.

Victory's management reportedly wants to bring Popovic back for another season. However, his coaching staff are unlikely to be renewed. This move could work well for Victory, as they would maintain some continuity in their playing style under Popovic. At the same time, Popovic could introduce some fresh ideas with a new backroom staff.

Tony Popovic is expected to return as Melbourne Victory's manager next season.

The Victory quickly commenced their off-season business after failing to make the finals. They have already announced the departures of Matt Acton, Lleyton Brooks, Kike Lopez, and Tomi Juric, with more rumoured to be announced soon.

Popovic’s first point of call next season should be to try and sign another striker. Despite only signing for Victory this season and being the club’s top scorer, Bruno Fornaroli is still 35 years old. Victory should be planning for the future as soon as possible. When players reach Fornaroli's age, they tend to decline rapidly, which would cause Victory a lot of headaches. They could have the same headaches as this season, where the club struggled to score when Fornaroli was not on the pitch. To help the scoring woes even more, Victory also needs to try and sign another creative midfielder to assist with providing service into the final third and creating goal-scoring opportunities.

Despite Fornaroli being the club's top scorer this season, Victory should look to the future this off-season.

Staying with the theme of replacing the old with the new, club legend Leigh Broxham will be approaching his 36th birthday when the next A-League Men season begins. He should only have a bench role where he can mentor the club’s younger players alongside the coaching staff to help them reach their potential. Broxham should not be starting most of the club’s games, as he did this season, as he no longer possesses the speed or technical ability Victory requires to reach the top.

There are also critical matters developing off the pitch that should be noted.

Before the season commenced, Victory secured international investment from American private investment firm 777 Partners. This Miami-based private equity firm owns stakes in numerous football clubs worldwide. At present, 777 Partners only own a non-controlling stake in the club. But a recent document sent to shareholders revealed that 777 Partners could buy up to 70% of the club through an investment of up to $30 million in the future.

There have been mixed reactions to 777 Partners' investment in Victory from the club's supporters. On one side, fans are hopeful the increased funding, access to the group’s worldwide scouting network, and footballing IP the club gains access to should allow them to reach lofty heights again. But on the other side, fans are worried about the lack of connection the new owners would have with the club and city. Furthermore, 777 Partners would only see this investment as a money-making opportunity and would quickly halt their funding should it not be advantageous to their investment firm.

All in all, despite coming off of a tumultuous season, there is still much to be excited about for Victory fans. Should Popovic and the club's management make two or three good signings in the off-season and give some of their talented youngsters a chance, there is no reason why Victory can’t finish near the top of the table and go deep into the finals next season. Hopefully, for Victory's sake, their new ownership group can assist them in reaching this next level.

Click here to read more of FPF's opinion pieces.


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