MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Few footballers have dominated their clubs like Kevin Muscat has at Melbourne Victory over the past 14 years but the A-League giants will soon face the prospect of life without their hard-nosed dictator.
Muscat, who won two titles as the club’s foundation captain and another two as their coach in 2014/2015 and last year, will have his last match in charge against Japanese side Sanfrecce Hiroshima in an Asian Champions League (ACL) game on Wednesday.
With Victory already eliminated, the dead rubber would seem an unbefitting swansong for a man who has dominated Australian club soccer like few others since the A-League rose from the ashes of the National Soccer League in 2005.
Yet the home match at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium will offer Muscat some hope of a better send-off than the 6-1 humiliation away to now champions Sydney FC in the A-League playoff semi-finals last week, the club’s worst ever defeat.
“Although this clearly, as you can see, is an emotional time, I’d like to look upon it as a time of celebration,” Muscat, fighting back the tears, told local media in Melbourne on Monday after announcing his departure.
“Celebrating what we’ve built together, celebrating what we’ve achieved together, celebrating 14 strong years together, and also the success that we’ve made together.”
As with his playing career in English football, where he was once dubbed “the most hated man in football”, some in Australian soccer may be glad to see the back of Muscat’s shaven head.
Those might include his former Victory coach Ernie Merrick, now boss at the Newcastle Jets.
The pair were close during Victory’s hugely successful foundation years but their relationship soured when battling each other as rival coaches, and they failed to shake hands after a league match last November.
Another might be former Melbourne Heart player Adrian Zahra, who was up-ended in a typically brutal sliding tackle by Muscat in 2011.
The sickening challenge, in Muscat’s first game back from suspension for elbowing a player in the face, earned a red card and an eight-game ban that ended his playing career.
Few Victory fans could argue with the results, though, as Muscat guided the side to their third title in his second year as coach in 2014/15 and a fourth championship — a then record Sydney FC equalled on Sunday — in 2017/18.
Yet for all Victory’s domestic dominance, Muscat was never able to lead them to club success in Asia and they crashed out early in the current campaign despite recruiting Japanese marquee Keisuke Honda at huge expense.
Muscat apologised to fans and took full responsibility for Victory’s 6-1 capitulation to Sydney, a result some pundits saw as proof the coach had lost his players after six years in charge.
The club said the parting was “an ongoing collaboration and unified decision”.
Muscat, capped 46 times for Australia and touted as a future Socceroos coach, said it was time for him to “refresh” and seek a new opportunity, when ready.
As the sixth A-League coach to leave his club this season, job opportunities abound.
Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Nick Mulvenney