Kevin Muscat, outside Melbourne, is the Most Hated Man in Football, but not by me. Some of my friends are going to hate me for this article…
That’s one hell of an achievement, when you think of guys like: Roy Keane, Robbie Savage, Eric Cantona, Diego Maradona and, for most Australians, Fabio Grosso. Out of all those, Kevin Muscat takes the cake – and it’s official. He was branded Most Hated by then Birmingham City player Martin Grainger in 2000 after a reckless tackle against international teammate, Stan Lazaridis.
A ramble through Wikipedia shows the following highlights:
He seriously injured Christophe Dugarry in a friendly international between Australia and France in 2001 with a sliding tackle from behind. The French manager Roger Lemerre dubbed the tackle "an act of brutality".
It was speculated that Muscat's temperament was the reason he was never selected for inclusion in an Old Firm derby during his time at Rangers.
In 2004, a lawsuit on Muscat brought by former Charlton Athletic player Matty Holmes resulted in a settlement of £250,000 plus costs in favour of Holmes, bringing the estimated settlement to around £750,000. Holmes had to have four operations on his leg following a tackle by Muscat in 1998, and there were initial fears that his leg might have to be amputated. The claim was settled at the High Court without any admission of liability.
At an A-league game in October 2006 Muscat clashed with then Adelaide United coach John Kosmina, knocking Kosmina from his chair while retrieving the ball. Kosmina responded by grabbing Muscat by the throat, an action for which Kosmina was suspended for four matches.
Muscat's dominant personality and aggressive style did win some admirers in the A-League, with former England international Terry Butcher stating "Every manager in the A-League would love to have Kevin, and I'm no exception".
In February 2009, Muscat "escaped" further sanction by the FFA for stamping on Adelaide United defender, Daniel Mullen, while challenging for the ball. Due to the referee seeing the incident during the match, as according to A-League protocol, the Match Review Panel had no authority to intervene any further.
In his first match back from suspension, Muscat was then suspended for eight matches following a tackle on Melbourne Heart player Adrian Zahra in a Melbourne Derby. The tackle was widely condemned in Australia and around the world, with former Socceroo Mark Bosnich calling it a "disgrace". The Sun described it as one of the worst tackles in football history.
In a professional career spanning 19 years from 1992 to 2011, Muscat received 123 yellow cards and 12 red cards.
In December 2013, the Spanish football website El Gol Digital named Muscat as football's dirtiest ever player.
And yet, for all that, it is mostly forgotten (by non-Victory supporters) that Kevin Muscat was also an outstandingly good footballer. How many remember he was actually Socceroos captain for a while in the early 2000s?
On the occasion of his retirement as Victory manager, this article will focus on Kevin Muscat the footballer and manager – hated by opposing fans for his success (rather than his excess).
He was only 16 when he made his NSL debut for Sunshine George Cross and moved from there to the AIS. He played for Heidelberg and South Melbourne before moving to Crystal Palace in 1996.
From there he moved to Wolves in 1997 where he stayed for five seasons before moving north to Rangers, winning the domestic treble in 2003.
Some would have nodded knowingly when his next move was to the fearsome Millwall, whom he captained to their first ever FA Cup Final in 2004.
When I heard he was coming back to Australia to play for Melbourne Victory in the first A-League season, my first thought was: ‘Damn! I wish he was playing for the Mariners.’
Yes, he had a reputation, but I had really only seen him play for the Socceroos and I thought he was a genius. Obviously, he was an outstanding defender – organised, strong in the air and in the tackle, a leader of men.
But there was a lot more to his game than just that. With the ball at his feet he had brilliant vision and a superb passing range. Like very few others he was able to dominate a game – slow it to his own pace when it suited him and inspire others to lift beyond their usual capacities.
He scored ten goals for the Socceroos in 46 games and 34 for Victory in 138 games – not bad for a defender, although he was chief penalty taker for both teams and was notorious for never missing (except once, Sydney FC fans…)
He has also had an outstanding managerial career, with a record that stands up well in any league, but in a salary capped league it’s the manager that makes the biggest difference. That is his true measure, and that is why he will be massively in demand in leagues where there are no such constraints. I have no doubt he will be even more successful when he has the resources to add to his obvious acumen.
Clearly, the man lives and breathes football. He had ability as a player (if sometimes over-exuberant); insight, knowledge and capacity to inspire as a manager; and imbued both those roles with a fiery passion that put the fear of God into opposition and team mates alike.
I would have loved to have had him at the Mariners. He would have been a real bastard, but he would have been our bastard.
Same goes for the Socceroos.
When Arnie’s finished we could do worse than to go for Muscat (depending on the make-up of the team and its needs at the appropriate time). He would certainly unite and galvanise them.
I wish him very well for whatever he does next.
Adrian’s latest book The Fighting Man is in the shops right now or available through Booktopia. Adrian also wrote Mr Cleansheets and will have a couple of exciting announcements shortly.