Muscat chokes back the tears as he leaves Victory and looks to future

Tough going: Victory legend Kevin Muscat reveals a softer side than usual during his media conference on Monday.

Tough going: Victory legend Kevin Muscat reveals a softer side than usual during his media conference on Monday.Credit:AAP

It was a 45-year-old man coming to terms with the enormity of a decision to leave a job that has consumed his life and every waking moment for the past 14 years.

He hasn’t got another job to go to. He has few plans beyond Wednesday night, when he will coach Victory for the last time in an Asian Champions League game against Sanfrecce Hiroshima.

He said his decision was prompted by the realisation he simply needs a break from the unremitting treadmill of life at the top of the game.

Since he was a teenager Muscat has been involved in high-level football without a break. First in Australia, then in the English Championship and Premier League, the Scottish Premier League and with the Socceroos and age-group national teams.

Almost one third of his life has been at Victory, and even someone as committed as he realised it was time for a change.

«I meet with the board monthly and with the chairman regularly. Over a period of recent time we have had some discussions. The decision was finalised and made in the past few days,» Muscat told a media conference on Monday.

So why now?

«Maybe intuition. I have just got a feeling after 14 years the time was right. We can walk out amicably … rather than you guys [in the media] receiving a release saying we can’t sit in the same room together.

«I don’t really know (what comes next). I will take the time to go on holiday, that will give me time to focus on what is next.

«There wasn’t one point. It’s not something I have decided overnight. Things have been going through my mind.»

There are so many positive memories of his time at Victory that it was difficult for Muscat to single out one in particular.

«All the trophies were special and sweet,» he said. «If I had to isolate one moment, we have done quite a few firsts … having scored the most goals in the A-League’s existence, giving joy to our members and fans, wanting to play a certain brand of football a certain way.

«Winning away from home to do it [win the grand final] from fourth [on the table] was unbelievable.»

He did say he was particularly proud of his first triumph as coach, when Victory saw off Graham Arnold’s Sydney FC 3-0 at AAMI Park in the grand final of 2015, giving the club its third title.

Coach Kevin Muscat and then-skipper Mark Milligan toast Melbourne Victory's 2015 A-League championship with fans following their 3-0 grand final win against Sydney FC.

Coach Kevin Muscat and then-skipper Mark Milligan toast Melbourne Victory’s 2015 A-League championship with fans following their 3-0 grand final win against Sydney FC.Credit:AAP

«The first one as a manager was five odd years between trophies, we had had a few managers, so to be able to put the club back to where it wants to be, that gave me a great deal of satisfaction,» Muscat said.

Winning as a player and as a manager were vastly different experiences, he said.

«As a player you are in a small cocoon of men that go into battle every week. On the flip side as a manger you are involved with the players in that cocoon but there is the enormity of everyone else that is involved, staff, the club, partners … to see it from that side and perspective it gives you a different outlook … the degree of difficulty increases.»

Muscat was one of the first players signed by Victory’s inaugural coach, Ernie Merrick, who prized him not just for his underrated ability as a player (don’t forget, he ran the midfield for Victory during their first championship season) but also for his will to win, his uncompromising attitude and his leadership qualities.

He led the team in his own image and, under Muscat the player, Victory won two championships and were one of the first Australian teams to compete in the Asian Champions League.

He spent several years as a player assistant under Merrick, then occupied the same roles under Mehmet Durakovic and the short-lived Jim Magilton as well as a season under Ange Postecoglou before replacing the latter when he became Socceroos coach in late 2013.

Competitive as ever, when asked on Monday if there was any special rivalry he enjoyed, Muscat just grinned.

«I just wanted to beat them all,» he said. «I never discriminated.»


2005: Signed by Ernie Merrick to become Victory’s inaugural captain
2006: Altercation with Adelaide coach John Kosmina, the famous «throttling» incident
2007: Leads Victory to its first A-League championship as team captain with a 6-0 romp over Adelaide United
2009: Skippers Victory to its second championship in a 1-0 win over Adelaide
2011: Sent off in his last A-League game as a player for Victory against Melbourne Heart
2013: Succeeds Ange Postecoglou as Victory coach
2015: Leads Victory to the title, his first as coach
2018: Wins a second A-League title as Victory manager
2019: Walks away from the club for whom he has become a legend

Michael Lynch is The Age’s chief soccer reporter and also reports on motor sport and horseracing

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