By Joey Lynch

Melbourne Victory coach Grant Brebner has pointed to his club’s Asian Champions League (and subsequent quarantine) commitments – and not an underlying issue in the club’s operations – as being behind Melbourne Victory’s early-season injury woes. 

Rudy Gestede and Callum McManaman became the latest in the line for Victory trainer’s room following their 1-0 loss to Adelaide on Saturday afternoon; the pair set to be sidelined for “a couple of weeks” in joining Nick Ansell, So Nishikawa and Ben Folami on the sidelines

“It’s not great that we don’t have those two players because they are big players for us to win games,” Brebner said.

McManaman’s ankle injury coming as the result of a strong, but not malicious, challenge from Adelaide United’s Michael Jakobsen, it’s difficult to lay too much blame at the feet on anyone for the injury to the 29-year-old Englishman.

However, Gestede’s hamstring issue from the resulting free-kick that was awarded for the challenge has Victory fans slightly more concerned. 

For combined with Marco Rojas hamstring malady picked up against Brisbane Roar in the club’s season-opener, and Gestede and Ansell’s ongoing hamstring concerns continue an unhappy history at AAMI Park. Even if one was to limit it to their most recent campaigns, Victory’s woes with injury have become increasingly well-documented. 

In 2018-19, Keisuke Honda’s much-ballyhooed arrival in Melbourne and barnstorming start to the season was significantly dampened by a seemingly endless saga of injuries and confusion that held the Japanese icon out for nine games. German defender Georg Niedermeier and Spanish midfielder Raul Baena also missed time. 

So rare was one of the hamstring injuries suffered by Honda that then-head coach Kevin Muscat described it to media as being one that a “radiologist hadn’t seen one in his career. It is a little bit of a freak in terms of where it is”. 

In 2019-20, a campaign in which they crashed to their worst ever league finish of tenth, key figures such as Kruse, Ola Toivonen, Tim Hoogland, and Andrew Nabbout all missed chunks of the season with injury. 

Though the intense training methods of then-coach Marco Kurz, whose previous squad at Adelaide were also haunted by injuries, were thrown into the spotlight in the wake of this run, indispositions continued to haunt the club even after the German was dismissed. 

The woes having lasted across multiple coaching staffs, it’s a vexing issue for fans of the club, who may be forgiven for thinking a (possibly Newcastle Jets-supporting) witch doctor had been burying bones near AAMI Park ahead of 2018-19.  

Having brought in a new Head of Physiotherapy and Strength & Conditioning Coach for 2020-21, Brebner wouldn’t be drawn on the possibility of any black magic in the air on Monday, but made clear what he felt was responsible for Victory’s early-season injury woes in 20-21. 

“Look, I can’t answer what’s gone on in the past, and I’m not going to stand here and defend or make excuses for what’s happened in the last couple of weeks,” he said. “All I know is we haven’t had the best preparation in the build-up to a season.”

Their pre-season beginning under the final stages of Melbourne’s COVID-lockdown measures, Victory, as did Sydney FC and Perth Glory, travelled to Doha to complete their Asian Champions League commitments for 2020. 

Despite subsequently surpassing expectations by qualifying for the knockout stages, that accomplishment also delayed their return to Melbourne and subsequent exit from mandatory 14-day quarantine. 

“We talk about the players, the boys have been in quarantine sitting in a chair for 14-days and how we monitor that, we don’t know because we’ve never done it before,” Brebner said. 

“So, all we know is that we have to manage these players, we have to look after these players like we’ve never had to do before.

“I’m talking about in my time [at the helm of the club] because of what they’ve gone through; not having the pre-season that we’re used to. 

“There is going to be some hiccups along the way.” 

His side the only one in the A-League still without a point following Newcastle’s win over Wellington on Sunday evening, the first-year Victory coach also admitted that the results had to start flowing for the club sooner rather than later. 

He did, however, also give a strong indication that Kruse’s return to the starting XI is imminent against Perth Glory. 

“I’ll have a chat with [Kruse] when he comes in and after training, but Robbie is fully in my thoughts to start the game,” Brebner said. 

“Of course we want to get wins. I’m not going to stand here and say that we can wait five, six games for our team to gel.”