SYDNEY, May 15 (Reuters) - Melbourne Victory’s rivalry with Sydney FC is known as “The Big Blue” but one of world football’s most notorious hardmen will be in a blazer on the sidelines when the clubs meet for the A-League title on Sunday.
Kevin Muscat’s uncompromising defending triggered a number of “blues” -- Australian slang for a fight or argument -- in a playing career that took in Crystal Palace, Wolves, Rangers and Millwall during nine years in British football.
Four years after retiring in the wake of a horror tackle on Adrian Zahra during a Melbourne derby that earned him the 12th red card of his career, the man dubbed the “dirtiest” and “most hated man” in football is building a reputation as a coach.
As well as burgeoning that still further, Sunday presents Muscat with an opportunity to ease the memory of the last meeting between the two clubs in a final.
After the 2010 title-decider went through extra time deadlocked at 1-1, the then Victory skipper stepped up to take his side’s first penalty in the shootout but smashed the ball against the post.
It was not decisive but the Sky Blues of Sydney FC ran out 4-2 winners to match Victory’s tally of titles with their second Australian championship.
Muscat, however, has consistently said this week that his focus is firmly on the present.
”I wouldn’t look back as far as that,“ the 41-year-old said. ”We’ll gain satisfaction from the season we’ve had, where we ended up in the table, scoring more goals than anyone, conceding less goals than anyone.
“We can fall back on that knowledge in this game, knowing we’ve got what it takes.”
Victory host the final at the smaller of their two home grounds because of a fixture conflict with the Australian Rules league which, as one of the league’s best supported teams, might deprive the Dark Blues of an edge.
Their four-pronged attack, spearheaded by prolific Albanian striker Besart Berisha, averaged more than two goals a game in the regular season, though, and they should keep the Sydney FC defence busy on Sunday.
Sydney FC fans will be placing much faith in their side’s unbeaten record away from home this season, a feat that does not mean Graham Arnold’s team are in any way a defensive outfit.
Austria skipper Marc Janko led the league with 16 goals and when his prolific run of form ended, skipper Alex Brosque, who has scored six in his last four games, and Bernie Ibini, four in his last four, stepped up. (Editing by John O‘Brien)