Friday, March 27, 2009
The Lessons of Ljubo
It is still possible for the situation to be salvaged (Alvin Ceccoli continued to turn out for Sydney FC long after telling Terry Butcher to "f--k off" in clear view of many fans), but I doubt that Milicevic will ever win the hearts of Australian fans after his latest blown gasket.
Some background on my own views: I first saw Milicevic in live action during the qualifiers for the 2004 Olympics, sharing central defensive duties with another ex-Perth player in David Tarka. Milicevic had received rave reviews from many quarters, and was already being earmarked as Tony Popovic's successor in the stopper role for the Socceroos.
My reaction on that occasion was "nothing special", and little that he has done since has altered that impression. On his return to the A-League, some mileage was made out of the fact that he had played in the UEFA Champions League. So have Jacob Burns, Frank Juric and now Michael Beauchamp. Mere participation is hardly a shining standout on one's CV.
It was clear that he had a somewhat inflated view of his own capabilities even prior to the 2006 World Cup, when he was quite shrill in his complaints about not being included in the Australian squad. Given Guus Hiddink's preference for flexible, diligent and above all obedient players, his omission is completely understandable, and not just in hindsight.
So to Melbourne Victory, "breakfastgate", and Milicevic's extraordinary, incontinent tirade on the FourFourTwo website about his time at Melbourne, in which Ernie Merrick, Kevin Muscat and others copped a thinly disguised serve.
What was so remarkable, after all this, was that Milicevic got such a sympathetic hearing from some of the footballing great and good. Partly, no doubt, because the word "depression" was glibly slipped into the story (almost anyone is guaranteed gushing sympathy these days if they can get someone else to hint that they are "suffering from/battling with depression", whether this is diagnostically true or not). But partly also, I feel, because Milicevic's contempt for the methods of Merrick dovetailed ever so nicely with the ongoing denigration of Australian coaches which has been a stock-in-trade of certain football commentators lately.
Milicevic returned from Europe (a fading Swiss club, to be exact) to an A-League side, and repeatedly clashed with the coach and the management in general over, well, just about everything. Ergo, it seemed, the Australian football scene simply didn't meet the standards he would have expected as a matter of course in Europe.
Much hand-wringing and justification later, it seems more likely than ever that it was simply a case of a prima donna, a decent player but not an outstanding one, having a career crisis.
This didn't make the papers up here. You have to feel for the Jets and their fans. I hope that Adelaide can hold it together through 2009-10 season for the ACL.