• Christian Marchetti

Season Preview: Finals or bust for Brebner and Victory

With the new A-League season right around the corner, Front Page Football will be breaking down each club's chances and what we can expect from them in 2020-21.


Next up is the Melbourne Victory.


How did they fare last season?


It was a disastrous 2019-20 campaign for a club the size of Victory's stature, as they failed to make the finals for the first time since the 2011-12 season.


Although it is quite impressive to finish in the top six for seven straight seasons, that statistic speaks volumes about the many issues that plagued the club last season.


Ironically, it was also the last year that current manager Grant Brebner donned the dark blue as a player.


After being humiliated by Sydney FC in the semi-finals in 2018-19, Victory ended their union with club legend Kevin Muscat and poached Marco Kurz from rivals Adelaide United as his replacement.


The German only lasted until January, as he struggled to have the same motivating effect he had with the Reds.


Most of the club's recruitment had already been completed before he was appointed, meaning he could not imprint his influence over the squad.


They went through two managers after that, Carlos Salvachúa and Brebner.


However, their form got even worse than what it was under Kurz.


Victory embarrassingly won just two games following the 51-year-old's sacking.

Getty Images


They finished tenth and just five points from the bottom, following one of the worst seasons in the club's history.


Chairman Anthony Di Pietro decided to stick with Brebner for the upcoming season, even though he managed just one win in five post-lockdown.


What is expected of them this season?


Anything less than a spot in the finals and the manager is in trouble.


Victory cannot let their fanbase down for a second straight season by missing out on the six, and Brebner needs to achieve that target if he wants to stay in a job.


It is a real challenge for someone who lacks the required experience, but that is the reality of the situation when you coach Melbourne Victory.


A club that has around fifteen to twenty thousand members each year, and has won four A-League titles, has to be playing in the crunch games at the end of the season.


Players to watch?


Victory used a new transfer policy when it comes to recruiting foreigners, emphasising experienced players from the lower reaches of English football.


Callum McManaman, Jacob Butterfield, Ryan Shotton and Rudy Gestede join with experience in the English game.


Even Olyroos striker Ben Folami is on loan from English League One side Ipswich Town.


McManaman should serve as a natural replacement for Andrew Nabbout, who departed for rivals Melbourne City via Perth.


29-year-old McManaman has featured in the Premier League with both Wigan Athletic and West Bromwich Albion in the past.


Victory will hope he can have the same impact that Marco Rojas has had out wide.


Gestede has been brought in as an Ola Toivonen replacement.


The Benin international is confident he can fill the shoes of the big Swede.


"Hopefully I will dominate the league more than Toivonen," he told reporters recently.


"My goal is to score and that's what I am going to do."

Gestede has featured for a range of different English sides in recent years. (Getty Images)


The confidence of the 32-year-old might be just what this team needs right now, particularly after struggling for regular end product from their forwards in 2019-20.


Any youngsters coming through?


Folami is highly rated at parent club Ipswich.


He will need regular minutes if he is to go back to England and be successful.


Birkan Kirdar and Jay Barnett featured regularly post-lockdown, with Brebner more than happy to give youth a chance if they have earned it.


Jake Brimmer will hope for more regular minutes with the Victory than he had at Perth, the 22-year-old often in and out of the starting eleven under Tony Popovic.


The ex-Liverpool youth academy player was impressive in the club's recent Asian Champions League run, netting a couple of goals and starting every match.


Scholarship players such as Luis Lawrie-Lattanzio and Gianluca Iannucci could have breakout years after impressing in the ACL.


And how's the manager?


Just like many other coaches in the league at the moment, this is Brebner's first stint as a head coach of an A-League club.


As mentioned above, it doesn't get any easier for a rookie coach when that club has high expectations every year.


However, similarly to Patrick Kisnorbo at Melbourne City, Brebner knows the club very well because of his spells as both a player and an assistant coach.


That factor hurt both Kurz and Salvachúa from their stints at the helm, as they didn't understand the urgent need for immediate success.


Victory showed glimpses of promise under Brebner post-lockdown, with Marco Rojas, in particular, thriving under the Scotsman.

AAP


Brebner should take plenty of heart from their recent performance in the Champions League though, as they became the first Australian side to reach the knockout stages since 2016.


Since that run, they have also brought in more experienced players to complement the promising young talent coming through their ranks.


Victory fans have reason to feel more optimistic heading into 2020-21.