If someone asked me about A-League team Melbourne Heart a few weeks ago, my reply would have been one of two things — (1) their 19 game winless streak (since broken after last Friday’s win against Newcastle Jets), or (2) that ever growing winless away streak that stretches to late December 2011.
But my opinion changed overnight after it was announced that Manchester City had bought 80% of the Melbourne-based side in partnership with Melbourne Storm owner Bart Campbell who owns the remaining 20%.
The side, formerly having questionable spending power, a disconcerted fanbase and a recently sacked Coach in John Aloisi who was under-qualified to do the job he was tasked for, is now transformed to potentially having resources no other A-League club has ever possessed. It’s a win-win for both team and league.
When change occurs, so does elements of trepidation as ventures with British clubs in the past weren’t particularly successful as the now defunct Northern Spirit, who had a relationship with Glasgow Rangers that turned sour.
Meanwhile in the States, Crystal Palace Baltimore suffered a similar fate from British ownership with Crystal Palace and their financial woes in that period.
But as most things in life, there’s a risk involved and a risk that’s probably worth taking. The current regime at Melbourne Heart couldn’t continue on the path they were on. Needless to say, the absence of its initial youth policy, recruitment strategy that offered big contracts, Heart’s financial position, reliance on journeymen footballers plus the coaching decision being based on public image as opposed to coaching qualifications all infuriated club supporters.
The change offered by Manchester City’s CEO Ferran Soriano and Director of Football Tixi Begiristain could potentially alter the landscape of soccer in Australia.
In an interview with Fox Sports Australia, Tixi Begiristain hinted at a possible academy:
“The key with the first team is to make improvements fast, but we also need a strong academy.
“This for me is the most important. We have to play with 14, 15, 16 Australian players, and we need to develop them at home. First to scout and find them, then develop them.
“I think we need to start, and from that base you improve. The only way to improve is through training, and we will come with our methodology.”
The potential marquee signings, coaching appointments and other senior team investments will be needed, but the investment in younger players is possibly the best news for fans of Australian soccer. This new resource could mark a quick turn in future for the A-League side, who has only made the finals series once in its four year history.
As Soriano mentioned in an interview with The Herald Sun newspaper, “As an example we have a network of 36 scouts around the world, many of them in Latin America. So this organization provides services to Manchester City, New York City [FC] and will provide services to our Melbourne club.”
Also, a change in name and colors of the club has been mooted to accommodate the City brand, and as I look at the short history of the Heart, change might be a positive. A clean break from the past that didn’t hold much longevity and history is much easier and better solution instead of a club like Cardiff City where outrage struck when they switched from blue to red.
And even so, there have been examples of English clubs changing their kits during different chapters in their history — Liverpool changing kits to all red under Shankly, Arsenal’s red and white colors thanks to Herbert Chapman, and the more recent Leeds United switching to white in the hopes of becoming the Real Madrid of England.
Aside from player recruitment, academy structures and a potential rebrand, the coaching appointment will be the most interesting. Especially with John van ‘t Schip only on a short term deal after the sacking of Aloisi.
If we’re to go by the precedent set by New York City FC, then we can imagine Heart’s new ownership possibly looking to the league’s best young coach. Currently the league’s most promising coaches are Mike Mulvey and Tony Popovic. However, the likelihood of either signing on with Heart is unlucky at present day.
Other potential young coaches unattached include the recently sacked Alistair Edwards who sits in the wilderness after an indifferent spell at Perth Glory. He started brightly at Perth, but calls of nepotism after the signings of his two sons and rumors of infighting with senior players called for the end of his reign at Glory.
However, as the likelihood of poaching arguably the two best coaches in the league seems out of reach, might an overseas coach be the way to go? And if so, why not stick with current interim boss John van ‘t Schip?
There are more questions than answers at this stage but what is clear is that Melbourne Heart may have ceased to exist without the ownership of Manchester City.