Melbourne Victory and leadership
By Roy Hay
In all the outpouring of criticism of Kevin Muscat for his violent assault on Adrian Zahra during the Melbourne derby there has been very little directed at Melbourne Victory and its leadership.
There have been a few snipes at Ernie Merrick’s coaching and the selection of players and a couple of mentions of other incidents involving Victory players with the hint that they might tell you something about the culture of the club.
But there has been no direct questioning of whether the leadership of the club from chairman Geoff Lord downwards has any responsibility for what happened on the field that night and whether they should be making a decision about Muscat’s future rather than leaving it to the Football Federation of Australia’s Disciplinary Tribunal.
When interviewed Ernie Merrick said he did not condone the tackle but he stressed the sanctioning of the player lies with the FFA and ‘we will accept that’. Then he went on to praise Muscat’s contribution to the club’s success and argued that Victory has won its championships by playing good football not by foul play.
Muscat’s rule breaking was not confined to the tackle on Zahra.
Earlier in the game, Muscat told Carlos Hernandez where to place a free kick, then pushed the Melbourne Heart defenders out of the way so that a gap appeared in the defensive wall and a goal resulted.
The referee, Chris Beath, is said to have apologised to the Heart players that he had not seen Muscat’s actions on this occasion.
Given that Muscat is being groomed to coach, and there is widespread expectation that at some point he will replace Merrick at Victory, it appears that the club faces a very serious problem.
If it penalises Muscat it risks antagonising the player, perhaps even to the point where he might walk away from the club and become an embittered opponent of the Victory in future.
If it does nothing, it makes the grudging admissions by the coach, and the silence of the rest of the hierarchy speak volumes.
It is possible that penalties have been discussed or even implemented by the club, but the public position is that only the FFA sanctions have been considered.
This was confirmed to me by the head of football operations at Victory, Gary Cole, after the FFA sanction of 8 matches had been handed down.
There is an extreme and telling contrast with the American cycling team Garmin-Cervelo, which has just sacked its competition director, Matt White.
This came immediately after White oversaw the team’s leading rider, Cameron Meyer’s win in the major Australian multi-stage cycle race, the Tour Down Under.
White was dismissed for failing to follow correct procedure.
He referred an Australian rider to a controversial Spanish doctor without the approval of the medical staff.
Garmin-Cervelo prides itself on its drug free approach to sport, and the rule breached by White was intended to ensure that.
Now it can easily be argued that the two sets of circumstances are completely different, but the principle behind them is similar.
White admitted that he breached a club rule, Muscat breached the rules of the sport in which he was taking part.
Clubs have a responsibility to uphold the rules, not just take advantage of them to dodge their responsibilities.
There is another football related case which raises slightly different issues.
In the United Kingdom, the football commentator Andy Gray was sacked, and the presenter Richard Keys resigned after they were caught making sexist and derogatory remarks about a female assistant referee.
While I have reservations about image conscious corporations using ‘bringing the game/brand into disrepute’ as an omnibus stick to beat anyone who steps marginally out of line, I think trying to stamp out racism and sexism in the game is a good thing.
So here you have someone dismissed for what he said, not what he did.
With a colleague I have been writing a chapter on the women’s game in Australia where we recount some of the appalling denigration which went on over the years, but then you come across some of the things which still occur today and you begin to wonder how far we still have to go.
(A shorter version of this article appeared in the Geelong Advertiser, 26 January 2011, p.20, under the title, ‘Victory row: Clubs have to stick to the rules.’)