Rapturous applause and a cauldron of noise enveloped the likes of Terry Antonis and a battered and bruised Lawrence Thomas as Carl Valeri lifted the title in front of over 10,000 loyal supporters.
Despite having finished 4th on the A-League table upon season’s end, a gallant Melbourne Victory outfit fought against the odds as they defeated Adelaide United, Sydney FC and Newcastle Jets on the way to a record 4th league title.
Celebrations continued for weeks as the club said their farewells to Dutch playmaker and Victory medallist Leroy George as well as club legend Besart Berisha who sought to discover new challenges overseas.
Whilst some could scarcely recover from the departures of such crucial cogs, the Kevin Muscat-led Victory outfit refused to sit on their haunches as the club raced to secure important signings before the start of the 2018/19 season.
Victory fans were left salivating as the club announced the signings of Swedish maestro Ola Toivonen and Japanese legend Keisuke Honda to accompany an already accomplished side that included the likes of Kosta Barbarouses and 2015 Asian Cup hero James Troisi.
2018/19: So close, yet so far
The excitement was palpable as over 40,000 fans watched cross-town rivals Melbourne City defeat a depleted Victory outfit which was without star centre-forward Ola Toivonen.
As Muscat began to deploy a fully fit side, Victory began to steamroll their opponents as the manager’s shrewd 4-4-2 diamond shape promoted swashbuckling football.
Many fans remarked that Muscat had assembled the best side in the club’s history, such was the talent on show.
Crucial victories against rivals Sydney FC and title contenders Adelaide left the side sitting 2nd on the league table as Keisuke Honda announced himself as an early contender for the Johnny Warren Medal.
After 6 consecutive wins which saw the club score 17 goals, Victory was hit by the unfortunate news of a hamstring injury to Honda.
Honda would go on to miss the next 11 matches as inconsistencies plagued the rest of the season. Despite their deficiencies, Melbourne Victory crawled to 3rd place on the table which left them with a chance in the finals.
Unfortunately, a moment of anagnorisis enveloped a desolate XI on a fatal night in Sydney as arch-rivals Sydney FC defeated the pusillanimous Melbourne Victory 6-1 as they marched towards a record-equalling 4th A-League title.
For the first time in Victory’s history, it felt like they were at a crossroads.
The bizarre act of absquatulating from manager Kevin Muscat and retirement of club captain Carl Valeri left the club severely depleted ahead of the 2019/20 season.
The transfer of pacey forward Kosta Barbarouses to Sydney FC rubbed salt in their wounds.
2019/20: A season to forget
The 2019/20 season saw Victory undertake an immense squad refreshment under the guise of former Adelaide United manager Marco Kurz.
Despite never having won a notable piece of silverware in his managerial career, Kurz was appointed as Muscat’s successor and drew much excitement with the early signings of Australian World Cup starters Andrew Nabbout and Robbie Kruse.
Kurz was largely seen as a superior option to mooted overseas contender for the job Walter Zenga, due to his knowledge of the Australian league.
Many observed that Kurz’s hands were tied behind his back by the board as the club scrambled to sign foreigners prior to the commencement of the season. Despite a lengthy wait for their arrivals, fans were admired by the individual CVs of Tim Hoogland, Jakob Poulsen and Migjen Basha, leaving to suggest that Victory would contend for the league title.
However, a multitude of injuries in conjunction with a dire playing style lamented by the Victory’s loyal fanbase resulted in the sacking of Kurz after just 14 games at the helm.
Fans were largely divided by Kurz’s departure with many pointing to recent victories against Melbourne City and Newcastle as evidence of a rejuvenated and fully-fit squad.
Questions were asked of the club’s overseas signings, particularly Basha, Poulsen and Austrian playmaker Kristijan Dobras, who departed the club during the season to make way for Victory legend Marco Rojas.
Carlos Salvachua was subsequently appointed as the club’s caretaker manager but drew immediate ire from fans after suffering an embarrassing home defeat to Sydney.
It felt like the club was descending through a downward spiral with Asian Champions League qualification against Kashima Antlers merely serving as a way of papering over the fissures that were being exposed at both a playing and boardroom level.
The COVID-19 pandemic allowed Victory to regroup as they said their goodbyes to Tim Hoogland, Lawrence Thomas, Jakob Poulsen and marquee Ola Toivonen.
Grant Brebner took over Salvachua in the caretaker role as five games to end the season acted as his managerial audition.
Some promising performances from youngsters as well as January signing Marco Rojas set a sound foundation for Victory’s season as they sought to put their 10th place finish behind them.
Wishing to begin a dynasty by signing multiple players on long term deals, Victory bungled the 2020/21 off-season which has set the tone for the dreadful season they have experienced thus far.
2020/21: “The line has been crossed”
After embarking on a “worldwide search” for their next manager, Grant Brebner was appointed on a permanent basis with overseas managers being difficult to lure due to the pandemic and Wellington manager Ufuk Talay having declined an offer from the club.
Despite questions over the signing of a manager who had recently declared himself as “not ready” for the job, excitement was brewing over Brebner’s willingness to prioritise youth development.
This, in conjunction with the signings of experienced Championship campaigners Jacob Butterfield, Callum McManaman and Ryan Shotton left many to believe that Victory could immediately bounce back from the horrors that pervaded the Kurz era.
Despite showing glimpses of class, none of Victory’s foreign signings under Brebner could consistently prove that they were of the quality required to succeed in the A-League.
Several losses and discriminatory ‘COVID’ restrictions against football fans resulted in civil unrest amongst the fanbase with the club’s active support declaring that the “line [had] been crossed” after an embarrassing 6-0 defeat to Melbourne City.
Merely a couple months later, Brebner’s reign came to a close as Jamie Maclaren put Victory to the sword as Victory conceded seven at the hands of their cross-town rivals.
The club had finally hit the lowest point in its rich history.
It’s difficult to know where the problems at Melbourne Victory start and end but the signings of Brebner and Kurz represent missed opportunities on a boardroom level as well as blind faith in individuals who did not possess the requisite qualifications to manage the biggest club in the country.
Failure to recruit competent overseas signings accentuated the distaste felt by a fanbase who already felt disenfranchised by the club’s off-field decisions.
Only time will tell whether the appointment of experienced campaigner and ACL champion Tony Popović will be a success. However, the signing of a proven winner demonstrates a change in direction for the Melbourne club as they seek to restore the glory days of the past.
Image credit – Getty