Getting somewhere near the ball for a change
To kick off this week of Dickheads, it's over to Chris Lines of Narrow the Angle. Shouldn't be many dissenting voices on this one...
I’ve no beef with hardmen in football. Occasional moments of brawn and skulduggery give the game a juicy bit of edge. If you play the ball then there’s nothing too wrong with being fairly physical, provided you’re not jeopardising the safety of your opponent. But there’s reasonable force and then there’s downright dangerous.
Kevin Muscat is not just a hard player, he’s an absolute animal. A snarling, ticking time bomb of a man, seemingly hell bent on raging against anyone and anything that crosses his path. Innocuous incidents can be enough to cause the red mist to descend (and in Muscat’s mind, the forecast is usually for heavy fog and the horizon a shade of deep rouge). A tricky winger giving him the slip, somebody fouling him a little bit, a raised eyebrow – in certain games you can see it coming. And then it’s just a case of how soon somebody is going to get horribly clattered into.
Muscat and his ilk are like dinosaurs in modern football, and the sooner all of his type get the hell out of the game the better. Hard tackling: good. Dangerous, thuggish, career-threatening (and, in one case, career-ending) challenges: shameful. Go away. You are neither appreciated nor wanted.
I initially decided to write this piece because I’d read that Muscat had retired. Turns out he hasn’t – he’s changed his mind and returned to the suburban Melbourne side where it all began for him, Sunshine George Cross FC. A team with a name that manages to be both pleasant and heroic – two adjectives that will never be used to describe Kevin Muscat.
Fans of the teams Muscat has played for – such as Wolves, Palace, Millwall and Rangers – might argue that Muscat didn’t get sent off every week and most of the time was just a fully committed professional, albeit a tough one. But Muscat always had a dash of psychosis lurking within him. The capacity to see red and lose all control of his actions sets him apart from your average hardman. Roy Keane showed it on one or two occasions in his career (notably on Alf-Inge Haaland’s unfortunate knee), but Muscat has lost control again and again. There are so many incidents that it goes way beyond coincidence or misfortune, to the point of making you wonder how he was never banned from the game permanently, or at least for an extended period of months. With Muscat on the opposition side, players took to the field knowing that their livelihood was in considerably greater jeopardy than on the average Saturday.
Fans of Bournemouth, West Ham, Blackburn and Charlton will remember Matty Holmes as a tricky, likeable and slightly built left midfielder of some considerable skill. But he was never the same again after being on the receiving end of a vicious tackle from Muscat in 1998. Initially there were genuine fears that Holmes could lose his leg in the aftermath of the tackle. Thankfully that wasn’t necessary, but Holmes had to endure four operations on the leg and received in the region of £750,000 at the High Court in lost earnings. As a Bournemouth fan and admirer of Holmes myself, this is probably where the seeds of my intense dislike towards Muscat were first sown. But the opinion I formed of him at that time has not changed in the 13 years since. If anything, he’s become dirtier and more unhinged the longer his career has gone on.
The Holmes tackle was not an isolated incident. Craig Bellamy in his Norwich City days and his Australia teammate Stan Laziridis have both felt the full force of unsavoury and controversial Muscat challenges in their time. Laziridis, in an article in the Australian press this year, bizarrely spoke out in defence of Muscat, saying that he’s a completely different character of the field. To this I would say: who the hell cares? I don’t give a monkey’s if he’s constantly kissing babies off the field, rescuing kittens from tall trees and giving all of his wages to an injured koala fund – he’s a bloody dangerous player to have on the football pitch. I was delighted when he left English football for the A-League’s Melbourne Victory in 2005 – it meant there was no longer any danger of him doing damage to a player in a team I follow.
In 2001, when Muscat clattered Christophe Dugarry in a friendly – yes, a friendly – against France, leaving a deep imprint in the Frenchman’s leg and putting him out of action for three months, Roger Lemerre summed up the Australian’s thuggery, saying: “Football is not a game of skittles, but I'm deeply unhappy about that tackle. It was a close match and it should not have been tarnished with such an act of brutality."
And when Ashley Young was warming up on the pitch ahead of making his professional debut for Watford several years back, Muscat approached him during the warm-up and told him that he’d break his legs if he went past him during the game; a delightful way to speak to a young trainee. What a role model. As it turned out, Muscat did not get the chance to break Young’s legs, as he managed to get himself sent off before the youngster’s introduction as a substitute.
Once back in his homeland, Muscat showed no signs of calming down. Yellow and red cards still seemed to follow him around, and late January of 2011 saw him inflict another disgusting tackle on an opposition player – Adrian Zahra of Melbourne Heart – having already been sent off in his previous appearance.
The challenge on Zahra was a disgrace. And in this age of instant communications, social networking and Youtube, the challenge was shown repeatedly around the world – finally highlighting to a global audience what a hazardous and reckless man Muscat can be. The footage shows Muscat unrepentant, hollering abuse at the referee as he brandishes the red card, complaining to anybody near him that he got the ball, incredulous at the decision. True football fans have long known what Muscat is capable of, but this tackle now means that the casual armchair fan is well aware of it too. He got an eight-game ban for his troubles. Good. I’d say that was lenient. Zahra’s lucky he can still play the game after that.
So what crumb of comfort can we take from this cowardly, borderline-psychotic man’s career? Well, laughing at the misfortune of others is pretty damn cowardly too (though not as spineless as some of Muscat’s tackles) so let’s do that, shall we?
In 2004, Muscat captained Millwall to the FA Cup Final for the first time in their history. But guess what? He missed the final through injury. Ha!
And when Guus Hiddink took over as Australia manager in 2005, he promptly dropped Muscat from the squad – good old Guus, he knows a liability when he sees one – and Muscat subsequently did not get to enjoy the honour of going to the 2006 World Cup Finals, the first time Australia had qualified since 1974 and only their second appearance ever. Your heart bleeds for him.
So you go and play for your boyhood team, Kevin. Go and turn out for the side that your father is still involved in the running of, and make out like it’s some quaint little curtain closer on a brilliant career. I’m sure A-League spectators and players won’t miss you any more than those in England haven’t missed you.
I pity the poor teenage amateur wingers getting paid next-to-nothing that you’ll be kicking up in the air. I hope you collide with an advertising hoarding and do both your cruciates, you pathetic coward. Oh, and by the way, you were never very good at football either.
Follow Chris on Twitter @NarrowtheAngle