Sport

Coach Kevin Muscat on the respectful atmosphere and cultural diversity at A-League’s Melbourne Victory. By Jack Kerr.
Credit: DANIEL POCKETT / GETTY IMAGES

Victory’s secret: Kevin Muscat, 43, soccer coach

I will never take working for this football club for granted. I just love what I’m doing here at this club. I’ve surrounded myself with good people, and am well supported by the chairman and his board. I know I’m at the best possible place, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to be here.

Naturally it’s a business, and we’ve done very, very well over the first 12 seasons. But the ultimate success for the chairman and the board is winning trophies. Make no mistake – this football club is driven by success. And that means trophies.

You talk about dealing with egos and different personalities, but I’d go even further. Because it’s the world game, the variants between different cultures are so vast, and dealing with that is not easy. If you look at Besart Berisha’s upbringing, a refugee out of Kosovo, fleeing to Germany. Then you’ve got someone from up the road in Kew or Hawthorn who’s been to a private school here in Melbourne. Everybody’s so different. The variants of their upbringings and their cultures are so different. But I enjoy that man management side of it.

Do players need to be close friends off the pitch? I’m pretty insensitive to all those sorts of things. People in this country try and build up these superficial things and, to be honest, I haven’t got any time for it. Andy Cole and Teddy Sheringham never spoke a word to each other throughout their careers at Manchester United.

What I do expect, and we have got, is that there’s a mutual respect for one another. We try to create an environment that removes sensitivity. In a group of 30-odd blokes, including staff, and there are a few ladies as well, there are different types of things you are going to have to go through. But ultimately, in the cutthroat business of professional sport, it’s got to come down to being professional and making sure you do your work to the best of your ability.

We do have meals together after training. And we do certain things that obviously keep us together as a team. Because you can’t win anything without being a team. But we’re not going to call ourselves “the family club” because that’s going to make people think differently of us. I don’t buy into it. 

Players not playing? It’s not easy, but it’s part of sport. You just try to make people feel valued, and maybe sometimes you can’t do that with games, or starts, but there’s certainly other ways you can make a person feel valued within your organisation. Ultimately, you’re hopeful that you’ve got enough leaders and you’ve created a culture within your team that there is that team-first mentality. None of the teams that I’ve been with would have been successful or won anything without that sort of mentality.

There are just as many good lessons to take from a win as there are from a loss. And it’s easier to get those messages across when emotions are in a better place. It’s easier to strike and go and be a lot more aggressive when you’ve won. It’s not an easy thing to do, but I tend to work just as hard on finding those lessons from a win as I do when we get beaten.

Players, they are people, ultimately. From time to time, as fans watching, you forget sometimes you’re talking about a person. You refer to them as a player, but your views on someone can be so different if you actually add the human element to things. Because that’s what you’re dealing with, you are dealing with people. 

If there’s one area that I feel I need to improve on, or where I’ve short-changed people around me, it’s that work–life balance. I don’t think I’ve been able to master that and manage that yet. It is a 24-7 business, and I find it very, very hard to switch off. The people around me – and my own life as well – have suffered a little bit because of that. But it’s something I’m working on. Fortunately I’ve got an understanding partner and children. 

The beauty of this job is that no two days are alike. When I was getting involved in coaching, someone I once played with abroad said to me, “Every morning when you’re driving to work, just hope that the problem for the day is going to be little. Because it’s not about whether there’s going to be an issue or a problem, it’s just a matter of how big it’s going to be.” You’ve just got to hope they are small ones, and nothing to derail you.

 

This week’s highlights…

Horseracing: Thoroughbred Club Cup Day

Saturday, 1st race 12.10pm (AEST), Caulfield Racecourse, Melbourne

Netball: Melbourne Vixens v Sunshine Coast Lightning

Saturday, 7pm (AEST), Margaret Court Arena, Melbourne

AFL: Adelaide Crows v Richmond 

Sunday, 4.10pm (ACST), Adelaide Oval

Rugby union: Super Rugby – Brumbies v Blues

Sunday, 4.05pm (AEST), GIO Stadium, Canberra

• Soccer: A-League semi-final – Melbourne Victory v Brisbane Roar

Sunday, 5pm (AEST), AAMI Park, Melbourne

Motorsport: F1 Russian Grand Prix

Sunday, 10pm (AEST), Sochi Autodrom, Krasnodarskiy Kray, Russia

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Apr 29, 2017 as "Victory’s secret". Subscribe here.

Jack Kerr
is a journalist and documentary maker.