Where it all went wrong for the Melbourne Victory, and why 2021/22 brings renewed hope
It’s November, and you know what that means.
It’s time for another instalment of the A-League Men’s season, and one club that wants to go one or maybe 11 times better than last season is Melbourne Victory.
Jake Brimmer celebrates his winner against Perth on Australia Day last season. (Melbourne Victory)
The 2020/21 season was undoubtedly one of the most disappointing campaigns in Victory’s history, one that looked to have such high hopes and promise.
But as Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding once said in The Shawshank Redemption, “Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.”
And three seasons of misery have driven all Vuck fans mad.
We are going to take you through the last couple of seasons, detailing all the key moments.
But out of the dark shadow, this year feels like it could be the time for some silverware again for one of Australia’s biggest clubs.
Marco Kurz unveiled with a smile that ultimately turned upside down just months later. (Melbourne Victory)
With the departure of their head coach Kevin Muscat after a disappointing semi-final exit to eventual champions Sydney FC in 2019, Victory had a huge opportunity to rebuild the club.
Although with championship success, Muscat’s tactics and results did come into question, especially in the previous year.
Victory became unlikely A-League champions in 2018, despite finishing 4th. (A-League)
Yet somehow, Melbourne defied all odds to win the 2017-18 A-League championship, defeating the Newcastle Jets away from home in front of a sellout crowd flooded with 5,000 travelling Victory fans.
Many sources reported that Victory did a 'global' search for their next manager.
Still, with no genuine links coming into play, the club's hierarchy gave the job to former Adelaide United coach Marco Kurz.
Kurz seemed to tick all the boxes Victory fans wanted with an FFA Cup title and a semi-finals campaign in his United CV.
How wrong they were.
Some notable quotes from Marco's first media opportunity:
"I'm very excited. To play against Victory in the past, it was the team we wanted to beat more than any other team in the league," Kurz said.
"But now I'm on the opposite side, and we will do our best to play a good football style for our members and fans.
"There are also squad positions that must be filled with high-quality players. At the moment, we are in discussions with players from overseas and Australia as well – our focus is building a strong and talented team. But it needs time."
Marco Kurz directing his Melbourne Victory side. (ESPN)
Kurz wanted to bring a different style of football to Melbourne.
What Victory fans got was nothing short of unattractive and uninspired performances.
Despite an early home exit to the Jets in the FFA Cup and a dull scoreless draw for Kurz in the opening round Melbourne Derby, the worst was still yet to come.
I travelled over for the round four fixture against Western United.
In the opening minutes, Ola Toivonen and eventual flop Kristijan Dobras gave Melbourne Victory a 2-0 lead.
In all honesty, it was the most attacking I had seen Victory play in some time.
But that only lasted for ten minutes; they needed to maintain it for the full ninety.
Western, against all odds, pulled off a magnificent three goal turn around.
The Victory could only manage a 20,000 attendance in their first clash against Western. (Tanner Coad)
Down 3-2 and about to head into stoppage time, Kurz needed some attackers to rescue a point.
Who will he bring on? Josh Hope? Anthony Lesiotis?
Nope. Corey Brown came onto the pitch.
This substitution was enough for one of my friends next to me to walk out in disgust that Kurz had no intentions of fighting anymore.
"He's bringing on Brown? We need to chase points, and he brings on a fucking defender? Fuck this; I'm leaving."
And sure enough, he did.
I stayed behind with the hope that maybe a miracle might happen.
Full time sounded with a win to Western, and I joined all the disappointed Vuck faithful at the gates.
Is that the point Victory fans had got to in supporting such a big club? Fans wanting to leave in stoppage time?
Yep, they had sunk pretty low, alright.
Poor results soon followed, and it became apparent that Kurz was not the man for the job, which he was sacked from in January.
FPF recently interviewed long time Victory fan Conrad, and he had the following to say about Kurz's time at the club.
"His team had no interest in attacking a game. His tactics were entirely reactive, and that allowed teams to dictate the game to us, even on our own pitch. Given our ancient midfield and lack of pace in attack, we couldn't even counter-attack well. Quickly [it] became obvious that Kurz was simply the wrong appointment for us," Conrad said.
Carlos Salvachúa unveiled at AAMI Park. (Melbourne Victory)
Enter Carlos Salvachúa.
Previously an assistant coach under Muscat, the Spaniard took the caretaker role of coach with seemingly higher aspirations for the club.
Notable quotes from Carlos on his appointment to the role:
“Firstly, I need to adapt to the players that we have and adapt to the philosophy of the club,” Salvachúa said.
“This club is important in Australia and always try to get an attacking style, an attacking performance and an entertaining style for the members.
“This is what I trust in this squad, in the players; I think that we can do it.
“Yes, it’s a challenge, but it’s a challenge for everyone; for the club, for me, for the players, for all the fans. We want to always finish in the best position in the league.”
Ah, those final words there. Challenge. Boy, was it ever.
Salvachúa’s reign couldn’t have started any better, with Victory advancing through the Asian Champions League playoffs, somehow getting past 2018 ACL champions Kashima Antlers on a soaking away day in Japan.
This result marked Victory’s place in the group stage and their first away win in Asia.
Victory failed to live up to any finals expectations despite overseas successes, with just one A-League regular-season win in their stride.
They had to settle for a miserable 10th position, with Salvachúa eventually leaving the club in May to return to Spain.
But Salvachúa’s departing words perhaps gave Victory fans a glimmer of hope for the future.
“Continue to look after each other and stand by the club. Adios and thank you, Melbourne,” he said.
Stand by the club.
It’s almost as if Salvachúa knew that it would get a lot better or a lot worse.
Grant Brebner unveiled as Melbourne Victory head coach. (Melbourne Victory)
Desperate times call for desperate measures; Victory's fans were running out of patience.
They needed any miracle that could appear possible.
Welcome to the fray Grant Brebner, a title winner with Victory as a player.
After finishing the COVID-19 impacted season as a caretaker, Brebner was appointed as the full-time coach in August.
With coaching experience in the club’s academy program, Brebner soon transitioned into the senior environment and earned Victory Chairman Anthony Di Pietro’s trust in his new position.
Some quotes that stood out from Brebner’s appointment:
“The club has been a huge part of my life. The experience of coaching the team over the past couple of months fueled my desire and belief. Not only did I want the opportunity to secure the role full time, but I had the skills and expertise to do so,” he said.
“I have made no secret of the fact that I feel like the club had strayed from its football identity and culture, and I want to help lead the solution.
“Everyone who loves this club wants to see us back playing the Victory way, and I want our members and fans to be proud of how we go about our business.
“It’s going to take a lot of hard work, but I’m excited about the challenge. The first step will be to build a highly competitive squad.”
Investing in experienced foreigners such as Luton Town’s Callum McManaman and Middlesbrough‘s Rudy Gestede led to the excitement that Victory would finally make a finals run again.
But they peaked in round one and never looked back.
But it wasn’t because of a win or loss.
It was just a moment of brilliance Victory fans hadn’t seen at AAMI Park for some time.
McManaman’s opening goal was an absolute peach.
He appeared to have the missing flavours Victory fans wanted to add to soft-serve ice cream.
Unfortunately for them, that ice cream melted quickly, and they couldn’t pick up the scraps.
Alright, I lied.
My final favourite moment of that season was the newest signing from Perth Glory Jake Brimmer.
With the pressure already mounting on Brebner to get results rolling, Brimmer took matters into his own hands.
He staged a dramatic two-goal comeback in stoppage time to clinch a late win in front of a rocking AAMI Park against his former side.
All of this drama occurred just days after the stadium was back to near 100% capacity, with restrictions still in place.
After that match, I just felt that maybe Victory could get a head start into some wins.
How wrong I was.
What followed next could only be summed up in one word; disaster.
More humiliating defeats followed, including conceding 13 goals to Melbourne City in two disgraceful 6-0 and 7-0 losses.
Brebner was ultimately shown the door, and Victory was back to square one again.
I’ll quickly brush over Englishman Steve Kean’s reign as a caretaker coach as it wasn’t very memorable either.
Kean was there to fill the shoes while Victory began to look for a final piece in the puzzle.
Although it was mighty lovely seeing the club utilize their youth against Western United in a 6-1 thrashing towards the end of last season.
Victory fans hadn’t had a good moment in so long, so to finish on a high like that was a refreshing change of pace.
Tony Popovic was announced as Melbourne Victory's new head coach back in April. (Melbourne Victory)
Like a Pokémon trainer down to his final poke-ball, it finally seems like Victory may have found the winning formula.
Tony Popovic’s resume speaks for itself.
An impressive coaching record boasts two A-League Premierships, the first in 2012/13 with the Western Sydney Wanderers and 2018/19 with Perth Glory.
Popovic just had to be the man for this prized job.
Throw in an AFC Champions League championship, the only Australian manager to achieve such a feat, and you feel that maybe this is the right move after all.
They have already boosted the squad with Socceroo Chris Ikonomidis, who was heavily linked with the Wanderers.
By bringing in the likes of Italian stallion Francesco Margiotta, Victory has added a much-needed attacking signing.
I’ll finish this one off with some final words from Conrad again on why there is that excitement around this massive club again.
“The club seems to have a direction and vision from the top that has been missing over previous years. Add to that a coach with a deep understanding of what it takes to win at this level and a playing squad with the talent to deliver his message on the pitch. There’s a long way to go, but it feels like our club is back on track,” Conrad said.
It feels like Victory is back on track.
They are dangerous words, perhaps, but their fans should have hope.
As they say, hope is a dangerous thing, but it may drive a Victory fan insane all over again as they strive for greatness to return to Melbourne.
Time will tell, and on Saturday, this new regime begins.