By Neil Sherwin
When ex-Shamrock Rovers assistant Jim Magilton was announced as the new Melbourne Victory manager at the weekend, the news was met by a collective “who?” from the Australian football community.
Most of that was of course firmly tongue in cheek (football knowledge isn’t THAT bad over here) but the appointment is a strange one and horribly underwhelming for supporters of the Hyundai A-League’s biggest club.
Before the 2011/12 season kicked off in October, a lot of people, myself included, predicted that Victory would once again challenge for top honours come the business end of the campaign.
Their recruitment of arguably Australia’s best ever player Harry Kewell was a masterstroke in terms of raising the profiles of both the club and the game in general, with the former Leeds United and Liverpool man an asset on the field and a marketing dream off it.
Unfortunately, not long before the signing of Kewell, inexperienced manager Mehmet Durakovic was appointed as first team coach in a decision that raised eyebrows across the country.
The problem Durakovic faced at Victory was simple – he had no top flight credentials and, while a nice guy, he was easily undermined by bigger names at the club.
On Friday last, with Victory coming off the back of yet another defeat, Durakovic was fired.
His assistant Kevin Muscat, who people will remember as a ‘hard man’ for Millwall, Crystal Palace and Glasgow Rangers amongst others, took over as caretaker boss for Saturday’s game against the Newcastle Jets which Victory won 2-1.
However that was to be Muscat’s only game in charge with former Northern Ireland and Southampton midfielder Jim Magilton jetting in to complete a whirlwind 48 hours or so for the club.
One of the biggest problems that Victory fans have with Magilton is that he comes with a British style and mentality, something which has gone down like a lead balloon in the A-League in recent years.
In Western Australia, Perth Glory coach Ian Ferguson faces a weekly battle with supporters who want him out of the club.
Glory have had the worst of it when it comes to failed British coaches with Steve McMahon and Dave Mitchell amongst the names to have instilled their hoofball mentality before Ferguson.
Consequently, A-League fans are wary when they see someone of that ilk at their club, although it must be said that Durakovic’s predecessor, Scotsman Ernie Merrick, was hugely successful and won two Championships in his seven years at Victory.
Many feel that, by giving the reins to Magilton, Victory have missed an opportunity to raise their stature further, and they should have gone down the road of someone even just a little bit glamorous.
Of course, calls for the likes of Felipe Scolari, which did the rounds at one stage, are more than just a bit far-fetched, but there could certainly have been middle ground found between that and someone as underwhelming as Magilton.
With four wins, six draws and five defeats from their 15 games so far this season, Victory currently occupies the last finals spot on the A-League ladder, though just five points separate the sides in fifth and tenth (last) in what is a very tight league.
The first expectation of Magilton will be to consolidate that finals spot by finishing sixth or above and failure to do so will have him on the first plane back to the UK when his initial deal expires at the end of the season.
It’s a big job for Magilton, and he admitted as much in his first press conference, so with maybe only 12 games to prove himself, it is imperative that the new look Victory hits the ground running.
Neil Sherwin @neilsherwin