In a shock move, Melbourne Victory failed to turn out a team for Sunday’s 4-1 drubbing in Western Australia at the hands of Perth Glory.
True, there were 10 blokes in high-vis shirts standing around like road workers on a smoko break and a tall guy in a blue shirt who spent a fair bit of time fishing a ball out of a net whilst cussing loudly. A team, though? No. Not even one in a bad disguise.
Melbourne Victory’s season of promise is missing presumed dead. After all the talk, the promises and the hoopla, how did it come to this?
When sacking Ernie Merrick, the coach who was the architect of the club’s two title-winning campaigns, Victory chairman Anthony Di Pietro justified the decision by saying a club of Victory’s stature couldn’t tolerate mediocrity.
Merrick’s last few weeks saw Victory once again stumble in the group stages of the Asian Champions League, and that was enough for the new regime to act.
“Our club sets extremely high standards and we are disappointed with the recent season (and) our start to the Champions League," Di Pietro said.
In sacking Merrick, Di Pietro set the bar high – Steve Hooker height.
"Our intent is to be the benchmark club. We wish to be successful in Asia and believe this will assist in taking us to that level," the chairman added.
"It's time for change. We're excited about change. It's time for some new energy."
Right now, the Victory chairman’s words are like a millstone around the neck of a club that should have known better. In the first six years of its existence, Victory set the benchmark for the competition. It was a model of consistency, a club that had connected with its community – a club that belonged.
Whilst the fans will stay loyal, their club is barely recognisable from those heady days.
Three coaches within 12 months, a football director in Francis Awaritefe appointed and sacked before he had time to unpack the boxes on the removalist’s truck, and a return of just four wins from 17 starts. So much for being the “benchmark club”.
The truth is Victory have an imbalanced squad, bloated with attacking talent yet horribly exposed at the back.
Sunday’s "donut formation" was a disaster; Magilton's strategy left a giant hole in the middle where a midfield should be and his side were slaughtered as a result.
The defence need serious work. Roddy Vargas has been a wonderful warrior but he's being exposed for a lack of pace, while captain Adrian Leijer is making poor decisions and lacks the range of passing his predecessor Muscat possessed.
Matthew Kemp is on creaking legs and against Perth his first touch was as heavy as a club-footed elephant, while the way Matthew Foschini was turned inside out by Andrezinho for the fourth goal suggests the young fullback has a long way to go.
Add in Daniel Allsopp's red card and Harry Kewell's audition to be Matthew Mitcham's partner in the synchronised event at the London Olympics and you've got one of the bleakest days in Melbourne Victory's proud history.
With Sydney FC to come on Australia Day, and a derby against a buoyant Melbourne Heart on the horizon, Victory can expect no mercy.
It's a mess of their own making. And it'll take a real team to clean it up.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of FFA.