October 14, 2015
SENIOR SPORTS REPORTER WITH THE AGE
There were many victims of the Perth Glory salary cap rort, which blighted the 2014-15 A-League season.
The players involved were devastated, even if they knew little about it. The club’s reputation was dragged through the mud and its fans left feeling cheated when their team was thrown out of the finals.
But there were also some beneficiaries, particularly clubs that picked up top players who opted to quit Glory in the wake of the scandal.
Quite a catch: Goalkeeper Danny Vukovic has been an important recruit for Melbourne Victory. Photo: Getty Images
Melbourne Victory has been arguably the biggest of those, having signed the man generally regarded as one of the top A-League goalkeepers, Danny Vukovic, who was one of the first to declare he wanted out when news of the cheating broke.
And that is why the 30-year-old shot stopper will break the A-League games record in Victory colours in a massive Melbourne derby on Saturday night rather than in Perth tending the Glory goal when they entertain Wellington Phoenix a day later.
In a way there is a certain symmetry about Vukovic breaking the games-played standard as a Victory player, a record he shares with Central Coast Mariners stalwart, former teammate and “good mate” John Hutchinson, who retired at the end of last season.
Vukovic was an inexperienced 20-year-old in September 2005 when he made his first appearance against his current club in one of the competition’s earliest fixtures.
He had been signed as cover for then Mariners No.1 and goalkeeping coach John Crawley. But in the lead-up to that Friday night game, Crawley suffered a long-term injury and Mariners boss Lawrie McKinna had little alternative but to plunge his young keeper into the firing line.
Vukovic acquitted himself admirably, even saving an Archie Thompson penalty, although the striker netted the rebound as Victory scored twice in the last 15 minutes to win 2-1.
It was the beginning of a long association with the Mariners that had plenty of success, but one massive disappointment that had major personal consequences was when Vukovic was given a long suspension by the FFA for slapping the hand of referee Mark Shield in the frantic final minutes of the 2008 grand final. Vukovic had come forward to try to grab an equaliser as the Mariners tried to get back on level terms with local rivals Newcastle, and emotions blew over.
The suspension was cut, but it did mean Vukovic was forced to miss the 2008 Olympics.
Not that he is reflecting on that now – nor even the fact he is setting a new benchmark.
The 30-year-old is delighted to be at the biggest club in the country and is concentrating simply on establishing himself as the No.1 as Victory look to emulate Brisbane with back-to-back titles.
And, he says, what better game to put in appearance 229 than in a Melbourne derby against local rivals City.
“I am very much looking forward to it. I have watched at home [on TV] and it can be a little bit fiery at times,” he said.
This will be one of the biggest crowds Vukovic has played in front of, but having experienced the tension of a grand final with the Mariners, that will not be any concern. And although he has played in many keenly contested F3 derbies between Central Coast and the Jets, they simply don’t compare with the drama and tension generated by such a big match at Etihad.
The games record does not occupy his thoughts much either.
“It’s something I will look back on later, at the end of the season or my career,” he said.
“I never thought I would play this many when I started out. Saturday night is about the team and the performance and nothing to do with individuals. We are trying to get our season under way and get three points.
“Hutch [the man he shares the record with] is a good mate of mine. He hasn’t sent me any texts yet.”
Vukovic is entering the prime period for a goalkeeper and he wants to play on for another decade if he can, citing the example of Ante Covic, the Asian Champions League-winning keeper with Western Sydney Wanderers who, at the age of 40, has replaced him as Glory’s No.1 one for this season.
“Hopefully I have a few years left. I am fitter than I have ever been. I am 30 years old at the moment, I would love to go for another 10 years.”
Vukovic was, along with Oliver Bozanic, Victory’s biggest off-season signing, and he says that the transition from Perth has been very smooth in most ways, save for the demands of the coaching staff.
“It took me a little bit of time getting used to the training here. The intensity here is a little bit more than what I was used to and the way ‘Musky’ [coach Kevin Muscat] wants me to play and the role I have in the team is a bit different to what I have had in the past,” he said.
He is full of praise for the experienced French defender Matthieu Delpierre, who anchored the Victory rearguard to last season’s title.
“He brings a level of calmness to that back line and it goes throughout the team, myself included. He’s very calm in situations. He’s a brilliant player to have at the back.”
Victory will be without the suspended Leigh Broxham for the derby, but Vukovic was guarded as to whom Muscat might choose to fill in at the heart of defence. Thomas Deng, the young centre-half, came off the bench in Adelaide after Broxham’s dismissal last Friday, while Giancarlo Gallifuoco has just joined the champions, but because the Sydney-born centre-back has been away with the Olyroos he hasn’t even trained with Victory yet.
“He’s got a couple of options. Those two, but he has also put Daniel Georgievski at centre-back in pre-season. We are confident with whoever comes in. It’s a massive game to come in to.”
City look to have improved this season and Vukovic will be especially wary of Socceroo Aaron Mooy’s skills from free kicks.
“He’s a very important player for them and he’s probably playing the best football he’s every played, but you can’t single one person out … you forget about others, you get hurt.
“But from set plays, corners, his delivery is spot on. On their pre-season form you could say they have worked things out in the final third. They put five past Phoenix in the FFA Cup, they have goals in them.”
The Canberra Times