The club might have opted to shut down Robbie Kruse following a non-contact injury at training, but Victory Head Coach Grant Brebner is excited about getting the opportunity to give the next generation an extended run.
Having already lost Ola Toivonen, Jakob Paulson and Tim Hoogland during the A-League’s COVID-19-enforced hiatus, Victory 2019/20 woes were compounded earlier this week with the news that Kruse had suffered an injury to his left knee that would keep him out of action for his club’s remaining five games.
One of a select number of players still under contract at the four-time A-League champions next season, Kruse is now set to return to his native Queensland for scans on his leg, before beginning the process rehabbing for Victory’s 2020/21 campaign.
“It was a non-contact injury and something he felt after training,” Brebner told journalists on Friday.
“Obviously, he’s still got to see a specialist next week when he goes back to Brisbane. I’m not a medic, it happened after training and obviously precautionary measures were put in place. It’s five games to go, we’d love Robbie out there but getting him ready now for next season is obviously our priority and we didn’t want to risk it.”
When he’s been on the park, particularly when paired with Toivonen, Kruse reaffirmed why he’s one of Australia’s best-attacking players in his first year back in Australia following a long stint in the Bundesliga but, unfortunately for Victory fans, the latest injury capped off a miserable season for the 75-time Socceroo; a raft of injuries restricting him to just 11 games across the 2019/20 campaign.
“It’s disappointing for him,” Brebner said.
“Robbie, the first two and a half weeks before [Victory’s move into NSW quarantine] was looking really good, his attitude, the way he was playing for us upfront - he was leading the way. And others were looking to that and using him as a great standard to platform their performances.
“So, he’s very disappointed, I’m very disappointed because I was looking forward to seeing Robbie playing for the club again.
“But when one door closes, another door opens. I’ve come up here with a lot of young players that are going to feature at all points in this five-game period. And since the day that I’ve started I’ve tried not to look backwards, it’s forwards and up.
“So, Robbie’s not involved and somebody else will be and what an opportunity they have to start their career in the A-League or supplement what they’ve done so far.”
Spotlighted across Victoria’s social media pages in recent days, those aforementioned young players include the likes of Birkan Kirdar (18-years-old), Luis Lawrie-Lattanzio (18), Josh Varga (18), So Nishikawa (19), Aaron Anderson( 19), and Lleyton Brooks (19).
Kirdar has previously made history as the club’s youngest ever debutant when he came on in an Asian Champions League game against Shanghai SIPG at just 16 years and 70 days, and he and Lawrie-Lattanzio were part of Trevor Morgan’s Joeys’ side at the 2019 U17 World Cup.
Alongside Varga, who signed with the club in 2019 from cross-town rivals Melbourne City, the pair have also been involved in recent Young Socceroos camps.
“They’ve all come through the system, they’ve been in the system, the Victory academy for a few years now,” said Brebner.
“So’s a left-back that likes to get forward and join in attacks. Aaron Anderson is a centre back, tough, no-nonsense, just the way I like it, and he’ll be aggressive.
“In midfield, we’ve got Josh Varga, a very tricky ball-playing number ten that likes to link from the back to the front. Birkan Kirdar, who you’ve seen at during the campaign against Wellington, and he excites me a lot.
“Lleyton Brooks is a winger with a lot of talent on the ball. If we can get the ball to his feet, he can go past defenders and create some opportunities for us.
“They’ve been in and around for a while, but I’ve always felt, personally, that they were looked at as youth players – here to make up the numbers.
“While I’ve not had them for a long time, one of the biggest gulfs that I’ve tried to bridge is the fact that you’re not youth players, you’re young players and you’re in this squad just as much as Robbie Kruse and Andrew Nabbout and you’ll be viewed as equally as I see them.
“If they see it any differently, which I don’t think they do, if they think they're only here to make up the numbers then they’ve only got themselves to blame because I’ve opened the door for them.”
Lawrie-Lattanzio, in particular, represents an intriguing proposition heading into the resumption, with the youngster having starred for Garth Naven’s side during their run to the Grand Final of the 2019/20 Y-League season.
“One thing about Luis is that he’s got exceptional pace,” explained Brebner.
“And if you’ve got pace you’ve got a price tag because a lot of players can make a career out of having pace. We know he’s a goal scorer, he got a number of goals in that campaign in the NYL and we’ve got some shoes we need to fill in that area with Ola leaving and Kruse no longer around.
“I know that he is a player that I can rely on, I know he’s done it and, again, my way of thinking is that when you throw a youngster into that environment as a striker they’ve everything to gain and nothing to lose.
“He’s someone that’s heavily in my mind and you’ll certainly see him feature in this campaign.”