Under new manager Tony Popović, Melbourne Victory have assembled a robust core of Australian talent that will serve as the backbone for the team’s title charge this season.
Aiming to rebound from the club’s first ever wooden spoon during the 2020/21 season, Popović has sought to re-instate some of his favourite sons at the club, including those who have been crucial cogs in his Perth Glory unit of the past.
One such player is 15-time Socceroo Chris Ikonomidis who has joined the Melbourne club as a marquee player for the 2021/22 season.
Tied to a three-year contract, the Lazio youth product cited Popović as a prime reason for his move to Melbourne Victory in a recent media conference at the Victorian A-Leagues Launch. In addition, Ikonomidis revealed that he shunned offers from clubs overseas, opting instead to buy into his former coach’s project in Melbourne.
“I had offers from both Australia and overseas…[Popa] is a coach I want to play for,” he said.
“He’s a coach that gets the best out of me and equally gets the best out of everyone that plays under him.”
At the age of 26, Ikonomidis is entering the prime of his career and was equally lured by the size of the club and the squad that the manager had assembled. Indeed, he also announced that he expects Victory to compete with teams towards the top end of the league this season.
“I think we’re looking very good, obviously, we’ve signed some very experienced players,” he said.
“Under this boss, we work very hard and everyone kind of buys into the project so I’m expecting a very strong team.”
Although fans have not had the opportunity to see Melbourne Victory play any competitive matches before the commencement of the season, many appear to echo a similar intent to Ikonomidis in placing expectations on the club to succeed under Popović. The 26-year-old made clear his intentions this season, acknowledging that he is in Melbourne to win games and impress these fans.
“Coming off a bad season you want to aim as high as possible,” he acknowledged.
“I want to win everything we possibly can and try and get as high as we can as as a team and as a club.”
Despite undergoing a largely interrupted pre-season courtesy of two stints in hotel quarantine after featuring in the Socceroos’ World Cup Qualifiers, the skilled and technical wide player made clear that he is raring to go ahead of Round One against Western United on Saturday night.
“I’ve done two hotel quarantines…it does have an impact on your body after two weeks locked in a hotel room with no training facilities,” he explained.
“The people here at Victory have been great to get me back flying again.”
Melbourne Victory announce Josh Brillante as A-League Men captain
Announced at the club’s now annual Member Forum, Josh Brillante will captain Melbourne Victory this season. This comes as somewhat of a surprise for Victory fans who have become accustomed to seeing the captain’s armband perched upon the sleeve of valued club servant Leigh Broxham.
The decision to appoint the former Sydney FC and Melbourne City midfielder as the club’s captain for this season has been maligned by fragments of the fanbase who cannot look past a former rival captaining the club.
Despite remaining cognisant of this perspective, Brillante sees leadership as a natural skill and will look to play his best football as a captain, irrespective of his former clubs.
“Melbourne Victory have the best fans in the league… football takes you on strange journeys but I’m here now,” said the 28-year-old.
“It’s an honour to take on this role…at the end of the day, I just want to win trophies and play football and enjoy my football.”
A robust, strong and fierce midfield player with the technical ability to match, Brillante formed a vital partnership at the base of Sydney FC’s title-winning midfield with Brandon O’Neill.
The five-time Socceroo was often heralded as the more important player in midfield having been rewarded with two consecutive selections in the PFA’s A-League Team of the Year in the Premiership winning seasons of 2016/17 and 2017/18.
At Melbourne Victory, the captain is expected to play alongside deep lying playmaker Rai Marchán whose individual traits complement in ball progression and technicality complement Brillante’s intensity and ferocity. The former A-League Champion at Sydney FC is very much looking forward to playing in midfield alongside Marchán this season.
“He’s been amazing, he’s a great player and he’s very smart,” he said of his Spanish accomplice.
“It’s nice enjoying all these different players playing through the midfield, and how different they can be…it’s gonna be exciting.”
Like Ikonomidis, Brillante also acknowledges Popović as a key reason for his move to Melbourne, explaining that his standards remain as high as ever.
“His standards are always so high, it demands so much from the players and everyone in the club, to be honest,” said the midfielder.
It brings out the best in everyone. I think everyone else, everyone themselves, sets their standards higher, because of what he demands.”
The captain equally explained that playing at a high level in the A-League may give him an opportunity to feature again for the Socceroos, thus further justifying his A-League return after a stint with Popović at Xanthi in Greece’s second division.
“It’s always in the back of my mind, I think most footballers have that aspiration to be involved with the Socceroos so to come back and know that I’ve played some decent football here in the A-League, I can get myself back up to that standard,” said the Socceroo who was one of the final players to be cut from the 2018 World Cup Squad.
“It’s something that I want to be a part of, and, of course, the World Cup is just around the corner so it’d be it’d be great to be part of that.”
Ultimately however, Brillante is most looking forward to stepping out onto AAMI Park and embracing the unique atmosphere created by the Melbourne Victory members and fans.
“It’s going to be an amazing feeling [to play there]! I’ve played here many times before and and the atmosphere is unbelievable,” he said.
“These are the games that you love to play, the crowd is buzzing and the players are up for the big matches. That’s what makes you want to play the game.”
Image Source: Melbourne Victory