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Building the Culture Club

by Sebastian Hassett on Jun 22, 2011

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In what has been an unusually drab off-season for the A-League - more a result of there being no football for seven months than anything else – Tuesday, June 21, will be looked back on as an eventful day for the local game.

There were three big announcements and two big matches. In the morning, the Matildas overcame Mexico 3-2 in their Women's World Cup warm-up before the Joeys triumphed over Ivory Coast 2-1 in the opening under-17 World Cup clash, both matches being come-from-behind victories. Then in the evening, Paul Trimboli was brought in as Brisbane Roar's general manager of football, a significant acquisition given Trimboli's vast experience and knowledge in the game.

But in between, Mehmet Durakovic was made Melbourne Victory coach and Francis Awaritefe the club's director of football. This has to be one of the bolder steps taken by an A-League club - and I'm not talking about Durakovic.

Awaritefe is a little bit different to most who will take on such a role, in Australia at least, because he is as passionate as they come about the way football should be played. He is a staunch believer in the pure ideals of football and places style on par with results.

That may chastise some Melbourne fans at first, but believe me, in the long run, it is a great thing. Melbourne has to be more than a club of grinding out results. It should stand for more than that. It must stand for more than that.

If we want our clubs to be meaningful operations that last more than the next 10 years, they have to mean something to us. They have to reach that bit deeper into our soul. Under the previous management, both in football and off the field, Melbourne had become detached from this.

They became isolated from the fans, immune from criticism, ignorant of the fans - all traits you often see displayed by their neighbouring AFL clubs. And don't think such arrogance was missed by the supporters. They deserted the club in droves. Many stopped going, some even jumped ship to Melbourne Heart.

But Awaritefe will be very cognisant of all this. I tweeted yesterday that he is one of the few who is fluent in the language of football, business and coaching; I stand by this regardless of how Melbourne performs next season. As the man himself said, it took Barcelona 30 years to build their modern day team. If he can mold Victory the right direction over the next three years, then that's a great start.

It's time for our A-League clubs to go beyond their franchise-type beginnings. Granted, that was what was needed to get them started, but now they need to evolve and develop on their own identities. They can't be cardboard cut-outs of each other, differentiated only by playing in different stadiums and colours.

Each club must stand for something that resonates in the local community. Hopefully, for Melbourne Victory, phase two of its growth will be geared towards not just being a winning team, but a great club.