Kevin Muscat’s body of work in Japan has not only yielded silverware and plaudits. It’s also thrust him into the mix to be the next Rangers manager.
The A-Leagues legend is reportedly a candidate to replace Michael Beale, who was sacked by the Scottish giants following a horrific start to the season.
Rangers are already seven points off the pace; behind bitter rivals and league-leading defending champions Celtic, having lost three of their opening seven Premiership matches.
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Beale’s long-mooted departure has led to an array of names being linked with the vacancy, but former Rangers defender Muscat appears to be at the top of the list thanks to his success in Japan and his high tempo attacking football.
“I say wow,” Guardiola said of F.Marinos with Muscat at the helm prior to July’s friendly in Japan. “They are dynamic in their process, the build-up, everything they do. I like it.”
Former Melbourne Victory and now Yokohama F.Marinos boss Muscat has been following a path walked by his trailblazing mentor Postecoglou and there has been some angst among Rangers fans on social media of not wanting to copy their Glasgow rivals by turning to Japan for a title-winning Australian to fix their problems.
But Muscat – part of Rangers’ treble-winning side in 2002-03 – has been doing things his own way while tasting success since replacing Postecoglou in July 2021, having guided F.Marinos to the J1 League title last season.
A long-time assistant to Postecoglou at Victory in the Isuzu UTE A-League before replacing the Aussie trailblazer in Yokohama following his switch to Celtic in 2021, Muscat’s F.Marinos were crowned kings of Japan for the first time since 2019.
Muscat, who previously spent time with Sint-Truiden in Belgium, has the defending champions in contention for back-to-back J1 League titles – not even something Postecoglou achieved during his time there, having already became the first F.Marinos manager to win the Japanese Super Cup at the start of the year.
After taking over from now-Tottenham boss Postecoglou midway through 2021, the former Socceroo guided F.Marinos to a runners-up finish behind Kawasaki Frontale before ending their dominance the following campaign in his first full season.
This season, they are also just four points behind big-spending Vissel Kobe with five rounds remaining while preparing for a opening leg of their J.League Cup semi-final against Urawa Reds and juggling AFC Champions League commitments.
This is despite an off-season that saw F.Marinos decimated by key departures – 2022 J1 League MVP Tomoki Iwata (to Celtic), star winger Teruhito Nakagawa (FC Tokyo), first-choice goalkeeper Yohei Takaoka (Vancouver Whitecaps) and Leo Ceara (Cerezo Osaka). Marcos Junior (Sanfrecce Hiroshima) and Joel Chima Fujita (Sint-Truiden) also left during the season.
A closer look at the data provides a clear picture of how F.Marinos play under Muscat, who also guided Victory to a pair of Championships and an Australia Cup.
Since July 2021, the Yokohama-based club have earned a competition-best 155 points in the J1 League.
When you look a little deeper that equates to 1.91 points per game on average in Japan’s top tier since he was appointed – more than any other team in the competition at that time.
They have also scored the most goals in J1 (165) during that timespan with a league-best 140.6 xG, to go with a competition-high 24.4 xG differential.
F.Marinos are relentless in attack, with their 33.9 penalty area entries per game the most of any club since July 2021. The same goes with total shots, which stands at 15.1 per game and tops the list.
Muscat’s teams also like to control possession. With an average of 62% – again it is a number that ranks first while he has been at the helm. The side’s passing accuracy of 85% is only second to Albirex Niigata (86%).
“We’re adjusting things in our own little way to gain an advantage in certain phases of the game,” Muscat told KEEPUP at the start of the season.
This season has seen the next evolution of Muscat’s tactics. It could also see him return to Europe and become the latest Aussie to repair a struggling powerhouse.