Muscat more than the myth

Kevin Muscat's decision to retire ends one of the most colourful and controversial careers in Australian football history.

Kevin Muscat's decision to hang up his boots in June ends one of the most colourful and controversial careers in Australian football history.

It would be simple to typify Muscat's career by the way in which he departed the A-League - that is amid a hail of controversy after a horror tackle saw him sidelined for eight weeks - but in his 21 years in the game, he has achieved a lot more than just infamy.

Muscat took his lead from the lyrics of Frank Sinatra's classic My Way and forged his path as one of the greats of the Australian game in his own manner. His record is of a player who clearly had a lot more to offer than just physical intimidation.

He represented his country 51 times, won titles in Scotland and Australia and played for Wolves, Crystal Palace and Millwall in England.

His fame as the most recognisable face of the Hyundai A-League was as much to do with his hardman reputation as his ability to play a brilliantly weighted pass but those close to him, including current coach Ernie Merrick, believe that does not do justice to how good a technician he was.

So convinced was Merrick in Muscat's touch on the ball, that he moved him into a midfield role ahead of Victory's second season. The result was a dominant campaign where Melbourne rose from seventh on the table to win both the premiership and the championship on the back of Muscat's marvellous distribution.

"He played most of career overseas as a full-back, but he's got all-round skills. I just felt we could get more out of him in midfield. It was a tough move for a 32-year-old to make," Merrick said.

"I thought for the next two years, he was quite outstanding in that position. Then we move him again to the backline and qualified for two more Grand Finals. He's not only a ball-winning competitive player, he's a very technical and skilful player with great strategic knowledge," he said.

Those were the same qualities Merrick saw when Muscat arrived as curly-haired 16-year-old at Sunshine George Cross in 1990, but he also witnessed Muscat's determination to succeed.

"His personality shone back then. He played a dozen games as a 16-year-old in the NSL. I phoned (then national coach) Les Scheinflug and I said 'There is this kid here (Muscat), you should think about taking him to Portugal, with the Under 20 World Cup'," Merrick said.

"Les says, 'ah he's too small, too skinny and he's not tough enough'. But Eddie Thomson recruited him because he kept turning up to training for the U20s, with his boots under his arm. He not only got a gig, but the Australian team finished third in Portugal in front of massive crowds and Kevin was one of their best player and one of the youngest."

"He went on to play in a second Under-20 competition. And that's the sort of character who has achieved so much over a 21-year career."

Muscat's determination was the defining characteristic of his playing style. He endured some difficult times when playing overseas, some of them of his own making, but never wavered in his focus to get the best out of himself.

One of his toughest moments was the 2004 FA Cup, where injury prevented him from playing alongside another Socceroo, Tim Cahill, for Millwall as well as his great mate Dennis Wise, against Manchester United at the Millennium Stadium.

"We had an unbelievable Cup run, right through to the final. I missed the Cup final through injury but Wisey made sure that I played a part." Muscat said.

"I think I'll still go down as the only non-manager to lead a team out. The FA threatened Wisey with a number of fines and he took it on the chin and the last minute he pushed me out on my crutches. I was a little bit put off by Sir Alex Ferguson, because he just walked off. I don't think it went down too well for him," he said.

When he returned home a few months later, he became the heart and soul of Melbourne Victory, achieving what few of his peers could - a successful career in the new domestic competition.

In his time in the A-League, Muscat continued to tread the line between fame and infamy. There were the highs of the championship successes over Adelaide, and then there were the lows, like the sideline confrontation with Adelaide coach John Kosmina and the missed penalty in the shootout against Sydney in the 2010 Grand Final.

Many of the enduring images of the A-League feature Muscat, including the latest - the tackle on Melbourne Heart's Adrian Zahra which ended his time in the league.

But despite his decorated club career, it was the 2001 World Cup qualifier against Uruguay at the MCG, where he scored from the penalty spot in front of a crowd of 85,000, which sticks in his mind as the pinnacle.

"Representing Australia at the MCG was probably the best moment of my career. It was in Melbourne, in the best stadium in the world as far as I'm concerned. Anyone, who was anyone who had an influence on my career was there that night. We won 1-0 and I managed to score the penalty," Muscat said.

"I couldn't have scripted that evening any better. For me that instant there was the greatest."

Muscat's regrets the 'incidents' which followed him wherever he went. Incidents like the tackles on Craig Bellamy, Christophe Dugarry and most famously Matty Holmes, who later sued Muscat for an injury received in a clash between the two when Muscat was playing with Wolves.

Less than 24 hours after sending Zahra to the knee surgeon, Muscat delivered a heart-felt mea culpa where he admitted the game was starting to pass him by.

But he doesn't regret the 'take no prisoners ' attitude which led him down that path. The player himself and those who have seen the best of him know that without that approach, Muscat would have never reached the heights he did.