Having given them an extended run in the A-League's run home, interim-Head Coach Grant Brebner is hopeful Melbourne Victory will be able to hang on to its youngsters in the season ahead.
Melbourne Victory’s season, somehow, went from bad to worse on Monday evening when they sunk to their fifth straight league defeat against wooden spooners Central Coast Mariners: Marco Rojas' brace cancelled out by two late strikes from teenager Dylan Ruiz-Diaz as the Gosford-based side ran out 3-2 winners.
Victory is now set to record their lowest ever league finish in 2019/20 and, should they fail to pick up a win in Saturday’s fixture against Perth Glory or the following contest against Western Sydney Wanderers, the fewest wins across the length of a season in club history.
Not happy reading for Victory fans – especially when local rivals Melbourne City finally appear as though they may be capable of shaking off their mental gremlins and staging a genuine title challenge.
Nonetheless, much as it is for every A-League club in the dying stages of a season they’d rather forget, the lack of relegation hanging over his head has meant that interim Head Coach Grant Brebner has been able to salvage some level of hope for seasons ahead by using the run home to give opportunities to the club’s collection of young talent.
Birkan Kirdar (18), Luis Lawrie-Lattanzio (18), Jay Barnett (19) and Aaron Anderson (19) have all received significant minutes for Victory since the competition resumed play, providing a rare light in the darkness for fans.
However, especially in an A-League context, sowing the seeds of development doesn’t always have a direct correlation with clubs reaping a reward.
In recent years, Sebastian Pasquali made just two A-League appearances for Victory before moving to Dutch giants Ajax and when he did eventually return to Australia, it was in a Western United shirt.
Christian Theoharous’ breakout season was immediately followed by a move to German side Borussia Mönchengladbach.
Elsewhere, Sydney FC, despite the regard they held the youngster in, has this season been forced to watch on after Cameron Devlin signed with Wellington Phoenix and became one of the key cogs in their championship contender side.
“I think that’s always the risk you run when you play kids,” Brebner, who was a coach in Victory’s academy before ascending to the interim role, told journalists on Friday morning.
“But I think these kids have been with me a while now and I think they are quite loyal to the club.
“Of course, if someone wants to step in and tempt them there’s nothing we can do about that.
“But we’ve started conversations with players on many levels – players that are at the club, not at the club and young players we want to keep at the club. So yes, we are being proactive in trying to secure some players that are in that youth space.”
Counter-intuitive as it may seem, given the abject misery that has been Melbourne Victory’s season, the club is actually undefeated against Saturday night opponent Perth Glory in their two previous meetings.
Back in round eight, a masterclass from the returning from injury Robbie Kruse propelled Victory – the coached by Marco Kurz – to a 1-0 win at AAMI Park, while in round 17 goals from Ola Toivonen and Andrew Nabbout had their side, who at that point was led by Carlos Salvachúa, sitting pretty until a late Nicholas D'Agostino snatched Perth a draw.
Nevertheless, much as he has ahead of previous games, Brebner says he wasn’t relying on history or external factors as his primary source of motivation for his squad and, instead, looking to his group to prove their own drive.
“Central Coast, I’m going to talk about it, that’s hurt us, there’s’ no doubt that’s hurt us," he said. Do I need to use that as motivation? Probably not, I want to see the players that can motivate themselves.
“If I have to use a result for them to get up it tells me a lot about the players because I’m not using it. I’ve got a two-game campaign now and whether you are contracted or not, I want to make sure and see if the players are up for this game, otherwise, we’ll have decisions to make.
“It’s going to be a tough game for us, but I only want to look from within and see what our players do.”