If there is a positive Melbourne Victory can take into the second half of the A-League season, it’s that it’s hard to envision it being worse than the first; financial instability, riotous fan dissent and an injury to their marquee import have marred a campaign that has faltered at every turn, and has them firming for a second spoon in three years.
This was not the follow up anyone expected after Tony Popovic’s first year at the Club. An Australian (then FFA) Cup win, a point from the premiership and a nose from the Grand Final satiated fans momentarily, but only on the provision that more would follow.
Robbie Thomson feels Popovic is still the man for the job with a squad good enough for finals, but that time is ticking. Victory have a traditionally good home record record against tonight’s opponents, Wellington Phoenix, but three points is non-negotiable if they’re to turn the tide.
‘I think they can do it because they have the quality. Sometimes it’s that you’ve got to keep plugging away and you will turn the corner – sooner or later, that squad will. Then it’s a matter of harnessing that and going for two, three, then the side is on its way.
‘Last year they went four wins in a row [10 games undefeated] after four without a win. We still haven’t seen the best of Jake Brimmer this season, hopefully that will come. But the questions come when things go against you, we see it time and again, things you just can’t explain.
‘Whether it’s an injury to Luis Nani, when you have what happened in the terraces, your cross-town rivals doing so well, it adds pressure. All these elements can, even to the most experienced coaches in the competition like Tony Popovic, make things difficult.’
Thomson sympathises with the coaching staff and playing group, reasoning off-field instability would penetrate the dressing room. The club is still reeling from the Christmas-derby pitch invasion and no longer acknowledges its active support groups, while this week stakeholders backed a proposal to see private equity firm 777 Partners grow their share in the club to 70% over the next five years.
That 777 Partners had the capacity to envelop the Club to such an extent came as a great surprise to the general public in early January, with record financial losses and auditor concerns coming to light. Much of the financial tumult has followed the sudden passing of long-time director and major shareholder Mario Biasin, in May last year.
‘It’s very hard to maintain an impermeable dressing room, even if that’s the ideal for a professional football team. Things do get in and they are disruptive, they erode confidence.
‘The way Popovic works… When he looks at his squad today, he’ll think about this position, that position, we can evolve this, and that involves talking with the club and looking ahead. If you don’t know where the club is going from one day to the next, who the owner is, it makes it tough.
‘The future and ownership of a club does affect all the players, particularly the coach and his staff because it’s a job for these guys. If you don’t know who is running your company and if you’ll have a job in a year’s time, how can you focus 100% on your main thing? And with football, you have to give 100% on the pitch.’