And the winner is Mehmet….for now

27 June 2011

Written by: James Rosewarne

Last Tuesday, Mehmet Durakovic was announced as the new Melbourne Victory coach. And it came as little surprise.

After a supposedly lengthy and exhaustive international selection process, it became increasingly clear that caretaker coach Durakovic would be handed the keys full time.

Why? Because it was the easiest and cheapest option. And the one which kept Kevin Muscat at the club.

The only real surprise from the announcement was that Francis Awaritefi will be the club’s ‘director of football’ – a role not previously held at the Victory, and given to someone who’s worked as a TV analyst for the last decade.

Durakovic won the job on the back of five patchy Asian Champions League matches which ended with just one win and a last-place finish in their group. He employed a slightly more attacking formation, however few new faces were introduced. He connected well with the media, which ensured his name remained relevant and positive throughout the questionable selection process.

In Tuesday’s press conference, all the right things were said. The usual boasting about the being the biggest club in Asia and the predictable rhetoric about wanting to play like Barcelona.

To be fair to Durakovic, I don’t believe he was complicit in all the shady dealings and half-truths of the last couple of months. Instead, I think he was a pawn in a much larger game.

The truth is Durakovic won the job for two main reasons above all else: because he’ll work cheap, but most crucially, he has Muscat in his corner. Or at least on his ticket.

Muscat’s role in Durakovic’s hiring can’t be understated. The Victory hierarchy, both before and after Ernie Merrick’s tenure, has been seduced by him and views him as a prodigal son. Where others see a thug, the club sees a passionate soldier. Instead of a dogged defender, Victory sees a tactical genius. Most of all they view him as crucial to ticket and membership sales and the logical successor if things don’t quite work out with Mehmet.

Which brings us back to Durakovic. First and foremost, he should be warmly congratulated on winning the role. He was neither groomed for it, nor possessed the text-book coaching or playing pedigree despite more than 60 caps with the Socceroos.

What Durakovic does bring to the job is genuine enthusiasm and passion for the game. He mightn’t be the most articulate and inspiring media performer but he developed an excellent rapport with the players at a time when morale was at its lowest. Most importantly, he was in the right place at the right time. An accidental hero, if you like.

When Merrick was sacked, the board’s plan A was to poach Ange Postecoglou from Brisbane. The only problem was Ange wasn’t ready to return to Melbourne while the Victory wasn’t actually in possession of a plan B.

Thankfully for the board, Durakovic’s ACL rehearsal wasn’t a complete embarrassment which meant they could publically justify their decision rather than going with a more profiled, perhaps more experienced and qualified candidate. Having the media on their side throughout the process helped a great deal.

However, none of this is to suggest that Durakovic can’t emerge as the real winner from this unfortunate set of events. For starters, he’ll inherit a decent team strengthened by the additions of Marcos Rojas and Jean Carlos Solorzano, while he’ll surely have a far fitter Carlos Hernandez to work with.

The best Durakovic can do is put his head down and concentrate on the job of making the Victory the relevant force it once was and perhaps mould the team into the regional force it keeps telling us it is. The worst he can do is to start second-guessing his appointment and looking over his shoulder at Kevin Muscat.

Yes, the Victory appointment was underwhelming yet so too was Postecoglou’s at Brisbane and Holger Osieck’s at the Socceroos, yet both will go down now as among the very best in the history of the sport in Australia.

Hopefully Durakovic can ride out all the board’s double-speak, prove them wrong and win the job for a second time – this time under more transparent circumstances.

James Rosewarne is a Masters of Global Communicationsstudent at La Trobe University and upstart’s sports editor. You can follow him on Twitter: @jamesrosewarne. This piece was originally published on BackPageLead