Avoiding the easy option

13 May 2011

Written by: Khairun Hamid

On the Saturday before the A-League’s unforgettable Grand Final in March this year, which punctuated perhaps the very best season in Australian domestic soccer history, the new Melbourne Victory board chose to announce the sacking of Ernie Merrick.

It was a self-centred, arrogant move from the newly installed board, who were intent on having their voice heard at a time when the attention should have been focused on Brisbane Roar.

Whether right or wrong, the dismissal of Merrick could have waited a few more days.

Merrick’s sacking was handled deplorably. Truth be told it was botched.

The Anthony Di Pietro-led board portrayed it as a mutual decision when it obviously wasn’t. Weeks later long time football manager Gary Cole along with Merrick’s assistant Aaron Healy were axed in similar circumstances.

For Di Pietro and the board, the Victory’s undeniable successes and the people who made it possible were yesterday’s news and were dealt with accordingly.

Youth team coach Mehmet Durakovic was soon installed as interim coach to see out the remainder of the club’s Asian Champions League campaign and to hopefully spare the club from further embarrassment. As for the board, we’ve heard very little. No statement to the media regarding the club’s direction or philosophy, nothing for the fans either.

If the new board were playing the game, they would already be a couple of goals down within the first few minutes of the match.

What we do know is that as many as 70 candidates have apparently applied for the Victory job with both local and international submissions. There’s been no publicised short list, nor a specific criteria as to the type of manager the board wants. Rather just an assurance that the position is highly coveted which is hardly something we didn’t already know. The tight lipped approach has inevitably resulted in a rumour circus which will only get worse the longer the process takes.

Following the Victory’s elimination from the ACL on Wednesday night, calls for the process of hiring a new manager for the A-League’s most successful club will get louder, while the temptation to keep Durakovic will be strong. He’s had plenty of media goodwill in recent times, while, as suggested, he’s done a reasonable job as interim coach through a difficult time.

With that said, hiring Durakovic as manager would also be the easiest and cheapest option for the club and it’s something that should be avoided.

There really is a lot to like about Mehmet Durakovic. As a player, he was an undersized central defender with a strange name who forged a decent international career, as well as working his way to the very centre of the Socceroo defence. As a coach, he’s charismatic and laid back, comfortable with the media and seems to have an excellent rapport with the players. He seems passionate about the Victory and hasn’t shied away from declaring his hand for the job on a full time basis.

Unfortunately, however, nothing really changed during the five ACL matches he was at the helm.

The Victory finished bottom of their group and continued to concede inexcusable goals, which reeked of a lack of training ground application. Despite the buoyancy in and around the camp Durakovic seemed no more astute than Merrick in regards to continental football, while very little changed in regards the composition of the team – the Victory’s promising youth players failed to get consistent play.

If Durakovic did anything during his five ACL games worthy of securing the job in the face of some supposedly excellent candidates, then I missed it.

There’s no doubt Durakovic’s time as a head coach at a higher level will come; however that time isn’t now and the club isn’t Melbourne. He’s served an invaluable apprenticeship in a vital competition and at a difficult time for the club. He injected some real pep into a team whose confidence was shot to pieces, yet he hasn’t performed any miracles, let alone save the club from yet another Asian embarrassment.

The new board has struggled in its early stages, quite badly to be honest, however unlike the team’s ACL campaign, their hard work isn’t nearly over. They have a huge decision to make in the coming weeks that really needs to be handled a lot better than the Merrick dismissal which got us here in the first place. The easy option must be avoided.

James Rosewarne is a Master of Global Communications student at La Trobe University. You can read more of his work on his blog, Sporting Letters.