Ahead of the Melbourne Derby, we sat down with Kevin Muscat and quickly realised the Victory boss is not wasting a single second in his pursuit of improvement and excellence at the Hyundai A-League powerhouse.
And you soon understand, too, the influence Caltex Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou has had on this rising star of coaching in Australia.
Muscat, a former assistant coach under Postecoglou after a stellar career as Big V captain, where he won two championships as a player before one as coach – continues to evolve into a highly disciplined, process-driven manager.
The 43-year-old fully believes that if you have the right preparation and training, it will lead to stronger performances which will lead inevitably to better results.
It’s not an exact science but what you can control in an accountable manner, says Muscat, is key to success.
On the eve of arguably the biggest Melbourne Derby in history – ramped up in hype by Melbourne City’s marquee signing of Tim Cahill and a blockbuster Round 1 of the A-League – Muscat gave www.a-league.com.au a peek inside his mind.
What gets you up in the morning? What is the motivation, what is the challenge for Kevin Muscat?
It’s pretty simple, and a good question.
Not a day goes by when I’m not trying to think of things to implement and to make people better at the football club.
And I say people because ultimately we refer to them as players but they are people. We place a very high importance on what type of people we bring into the football club.
The end goal is trophies but day-to-day it’s about how can we make the team better and how as a coaching group we can make the team better, then we narrow that down to individuals.
That’s what gets me up in the morning and what excites me. I don’t waste an opportunity and don’t waste a session to influence somebody to become better.
Everyone wants results but if you’re not concentrating on your performance you might not get the results.
If you concentrate on your performance more often than not, the result will look after itself.
How do you sell that message?
You must be accountable and what I try and do is to create an environment where you remove sensitivity.
Because we are people and everybody is sensitive to a degree, so try and remove that as much as possible so then you are actually making people accountable and they are not sensitive to it and they can get back out there, whether it’s two minutes later or next week or whenever and take that message on board and they can improve as a result.
What is your overall philosophy?
Ultimately your principles and philosophies must remain true. Every coach must have a vision and a philosophy.
I don’t want to spell it out for you in 5000 words because ultimately you should be able to tell me what our philosophy is, because you’re the one watching it.
I could paint this beautiful picture and you could turn up and say it doesn’t look like that at all.
What do you think?
I reckon you’re a team that goes out to win rather than avoid losing, a team that seeks to dominate, press high and impose themselves on opposition, which generally leads to entertaining football…
Yes, so I’m not going to sit here and say we going to do “A” “B” and “C”, but you have a fair idea of what the philosophy is and I think we’ve remained true to that.
Training for games. Where do you stand on that?
To be successful you have to work hard. It goes without saying.
The challenge is to replicate what you doing in training to what it is in the game.
And certain positions on the park do have different actions, so you also need to be position specific. You need to you need to replicate that as close as possible without compromising the whole training session.
If you don’t train the way you want to play then it’s no coincidence players can’t do it.
The view from Sydney is your club is an A-League flagship in Victoria…
And we’re pretty proud of that.
It isn’t something that just happens there’s a lot of hard work that goes into this club and the one contributing factor to that is stability.
And that’s why when there was 12-18 months of instability it was all about all “the wheels are coming off” but the first Chairman lay down the foundations and the current chairman has taken the business to another level. So we’re pretty proud of our club.
I’ve been here from day one and I’m very, very proud because I walk through the club’s offices and I see people who genuinely care about the football club, what they are doing and how they approach their jobs.
Culture gets bandied about a lot in sport…
People can talk for an hour about your culture but if I want to know your culture at your club, I’ll spend an hour at the club and that’ll tell me more, because I’ll see it with my own eyes.
What is your future as a coach?
No doubt we all dream big.
And everyone should dream big but the reality is I don’t look too far forward.
You may say you can afford 10% your time to think about these things, and look at progression in four years and five years time, but I’m the opposite of that.
I could use that time to put it into preparing for the weekend’s game.
That’s as far as I look. All my energy goes into the here and now because those types of things [the future] will look after themselves.
It’s exactly like when I was playing. I just worried about playing well and the rest will look after itself.
No doubt I’m an ambitious person. But at this point in time for me to fulfil dreams, I’ve got to get this right.
How do you look back on your ACL run this year?
We had a long season, but I’m complaining that we’re not going to have another long season without ACL football in 2017.
If you’ve had a long season it means you’ve been successful.
I might come across as a certain type of character and a certain type of person but I don’t think too many people understand me as much as they claim to.
I want to be in the Champions League. I’m all about that.
Last year I made some statements about the ACL which were facts, they weren’t complaints.
The last thing I’ll ever do is make complaints or excuses. It’s not in my nature it wastes time and you could be working on something that affects your season.
Can you switch off from football?
It’s impossible to not think about football but there are times when you have to. With my two children and my partner, they are the biggest sufferers, not me.
[During the off-season] what I did was organise a trip and coincidentally part of that time was in France to watch the Euros.
And it was a busy time of the year for Victory. Twelve players left the club and we were bringing players in. We’re not at the point where we’ve got unlimited staff like European clubs where you can turn your phone off for two weeks.
It’s difficult. What is the definition of “off”? There is no off.