Does Kevin Muscat get the credit he deserves?

There’s only one thing Kevin Muscat would loathe more than a column criticising his coaching credentials: a column talking them up.

Kevin Muscat

Kevin Muscat has surprised many since his appointment as Melbourne Victory coach Source: Getty Images

It’s not because he’s overtly modest or because he’s a beacon of humility. Not at all – he is a man brimming with confidence and self-belief. It’s just that he prefers to stay focused on what really matters. 

He will take his Melbourne Victory side to face the all-conquering Sydney FC this Sunday, and while the Sky Blues are rightful favourites at home, they ought to be prepared for a street fight.

Muscat will be preparing his men for 120 bruising minutes and whatever comes after that. 

The Victory have played well this year. They haven’t been at their best but they’ve been consistently strong, shaking off some early lapses to cement themselves as the number two team. 

Considering how much overhaul there has been in key players during that time, it’s a tremendous effort by the coach to keep his side in championship contention again – as the Victory have been in all four seasons (including most of last season) under Muscat’s rein. 

But moving to offer praise would make Muscat uncomfortable. Why? The job isn’t done and he’s not one to take stock: it’s about the next game, the next goal, the next tackle, the next training session, the next substitution, the next transfer and the next 50/50 ball. 

It might be a cliche to reheat Al Pacino’s “Game of Inches” speech, but if you want an insight into why Muscat is succeeding on the touchline, there's your window.

You cannot give anyone an inch: not the opposition coach, not an undisciplined player, not the referee, not the media. Nobody. 

This is the world in which “Musky” thrives. Perhaps a decade in the UK taught him about what it takes to succeed - a ruthless edge isn’t just an attribute but a way of life.
Even in Australia, when you’re making your debut in the NSL at 16 at Sunshine George Cross (as kids did back then), you grow up fast. It was a dog-eat-dog world and Muscat relished the make-or-break environment. 

And although that attitude has served him extremely well in coaching, those who know him best – especially since he became a coach – know a different side. 

Yes, he’s all those things he was as a player. But he’s a manager of people now, not just a fearless leader.

It doesn't get public attention but he's shown a deft hand when dealing with delicate, human issues, with both staff and players. 

He’s educated about the game - tactically, his attacking approach doesn’t get enough kudos. 

Sure, Besart Berisha has helped, but the boldness of his front third in the past few years has made the Victory a joy to watch. 

His short period as assistant under Ange Postecoglou must have proved incredibly enlightening, but Muscat has a distinct style.

It’s still about dominance of the ball but with a skew toward aggressive, fast attack. They’ve been consistently among the most exciting teams to watch. 

Indeed, few critics will admit they thought Muscat was ready to take over from Postecoglou when he did so midway through the 2013-14 season. But ready he was, as he's since proved with his excellent win-loss record. 

However, almost four years on, I get the feeling some are still reluctant to acknowledge his achievements and talents in the dugout. 

Some feel his elevation at Victory came too easily. Club captain one moment, assistant coach the next, caretaker coach the day after and then straight to the top – with the league’s biggest budget to spend on the best players. 

True, his ascension came fast. But if he rode the wave, so be it. He’d have been found out by now and he hasn’t. If anything, he’s getting better and better. 

Making the grand final for the second time will have completely erased any queries about Muscat’s undoubted managerial talent.

And if he wins a second title, he should be entitled to expect an apology from those who remain unconvinced. 

Not that he cares one bit. By the time any remaining doubters make up their mind, he’ll already be thinking about the next championship. 

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4 min read
Published 3 May 2017 at 10:48am
By Sebastian Hassett