Reputations are like tattoos. Once you have one they’re damn hard to get rid of.
Melbourne Victory coach Kevin Muscat knows all about this. Muscat’s reputation, built over the last two decades of a successful and controversial playing career, is inked into him as if he were a member of The Red Hot Chilli Peppers.
Hard man. Enforcer. President of White Line Fever International.
And they’re the more polite terms that are tossed around when Muscat is discussed by some football fans.
As he embarks on his first full season in charge of Melbourne Victory his reputation may be about to change.
Thinker. Talent scout. Tactician. Coach.
This is the reputation renovation Muscat is currently undergoing as he starts the next phase of his career.
With the squad he has assembled for season 10 of the Hyundai A-League there’s every chance that the total make over will be completed by season’s end.
Victory’s 4-1 trampling of Western Sydney Wanderers in the opening round laid down a marker for the rest of the competition.
Strength and height at the back, steel and skill through the middle, pace and power on the wings.
And Berisha at the sharp end of it all.
Muscat looks to have built a squad with the versatility and depth to return Melbourne Victory to the summit.
How he manages his resources and the expectation of the army of fans in navy blue over the peaks and troughs of the season remains to be seen.
The onus is on Muscat to maximise the moment.
When Ange Postecoglou departed Melbourne Victory to take the job as Socceroos coach in late 2013, many doubted Muscat could fill the void left by the dual Brisbane Roar title-winning coach.
Postecoglou and Muscat seemed footballing opposites. One advocating an artful, expressive, high-tempo game.
The other a master of the dark arts, an advocate of winning by any means necessary.
Almost immediately Muscat began to disprove assumptions. Having taken over the job mid stream and with no time to put his own stamp on the squad, he built upon the Postecoglou project rather than dismantling it.
Many thought he didn’t have the temperament to hold the dressing room and show the versatility required to manage the many and varied relationships within it.
Instead he seems to thrive with the challenge of change.
Muscat has become a coach before our eyes.
We shouldn’t be surprised though. His catalogue of misdemeanors is long and infamous and it has overshadowed the simple fact that Kevin Muscat could really play.
Muscat has no one to blame but himself for being misunderstood. For some, he’ll never be anything other than a Darth Vader in football boots.
Some things haven’t changed though.
The job of the fourth official has become that much harder with Muscat in close vicinity. There are few more ironic sights than The Melbourne Victory coach berating a helpless whistle blower about a rough tackle leaving a mark on one of his players.
Kevin Muscat has never been shy to share his opinion.
This year he just may change a few opinions as well.