Unfinished business

In the twilight of his extraordinary career, the Asian Champions League remains a piece of unfinished business for Kevin Muscat.

In the twilight of his extraordinary career, the Asian Champions League remains a piece of unfinished business for Kevin Muscat.

While Melbourne may be in the midst of a championship defence and the focus of the footballing nation is on matters domestic, Muscat, ever the master of the bigger picture, is widening his vision to the continent.

Since returning to lead a then fledgling Melbourne team five years ago, Muscat has achieved all there is to achieve in terms of the Hyundai A-League. Twice the team has won the A-League premiership, twice it has won the A-League championship, while there was even a Pre-Season Cup thrown in there in 2008.

Muscat has been at the very centre of all those triumphs. Leading by example and with a strength of conviction which has made him the figure opposition fans love to hate and Melbourne fans embrace as the heart and soul of the Hyundai A-League's most successful team.

The 2008 Asian Champions League campaign remains the one mark on Melbourne's copy book. Melbourne and Muscat are renowned for their ability to face adversity but the trials of continental football coupled with a tough draw proved too much as Victory bowed out in the group stage.

Muscat said he did not consider that a failure, but a learning process which will help Melbourne this time around.

"The last time we didn't get through to the second stage, albeit one team only got through. The eventual champions were in our group and beat us 4-3 at home. We don't consider that a failure," he said.

"There's quite a few of the squad which played in the last ACL campaign so it goes without saying that you are always learning. In that particular tournament we learned quite a few lessons. Not only as a football club, but as individuals."

Muscat and his men then watched on as the club's bitter rival and the one it had beaten 6-0 in the previous year's Grand Final, Adelaide, staged a remarkable run all the way to the ACL final. Where Melbourne had wanted to be the trailblazer, instead it was Adelaide strutting its stuff on Asian club football's greatest stage.

Muscat said that it didn't think of the Reds achievement as a benchmark the club wanted to match this campaign, but it did provide an example of how competitive Australian teams can be in the ACL.

"I don't know if it's a spur to try to emulate. What it did show was that if you get a decent run it is possible to perform well at this level. They did very well making the finals," he said.

The respect which Muscat holds for the ACL shows what it would mean for him, at 36 years of age, to perform well in it.

"The tournament's come on so much in the last few years and there is a great enthusiasm for it. The boys regard this as the pinnacle of club football. It's really important to me and the rest of the players that we perform well," he said.

No doubt at the back of Muscat's mind is the prospect that this could be his farewell as a player. The lure of another ACL campaign this year convinced him to sign on for another year 12 months ago and while he is still a player of utter quality, there is a sense that he isn't coping with the workload as he once might have.

Muscat said he was feeling a little flat after he returned to the Melbourne team to lead the Victory to a memorable 2-1 win over Sydney last Thursday.

"I've got to be honest. Thursday night's game was a difficult one and the preparation we have had has been great but it is a tough ask to back up so quick. At my tender age, it becomes a little bit harder, but I've enjoyed the challenge to get myself ready." he said.

For a player as important as Muscat, there is never a right time to bow out. But a successful Asian Champions League campaign with the club he has helped build from scratch could give him a chance to go out as not only a legend, but a continental champion as well.