Photography: Bianca de Marchi/AAP
Ultimately, it was a rather anonymous way for Melbourne City to make history. Able to secure the A-League Men’s premiership for a record-tying third consecutive season by defeating Central Coast on Saturday, Rado Vidošić’s side were forced to settle for a 1-1 draw, only to then see the crown dropped in lap each day later, as Western United upset Adelaide, making City’s eight-point lead at the top of the table unassailable.
It meant there was no scene of jubilation at the final whistle or confetti cascading around a gleeful Scott Jamieson lifting the premier’s plate. That he will have to wait until this week, the City captain will have to settle instead tweeting a gif celebrating Kobe Bryant. History made, but in silence.
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No team in the 18 years of the ALM has ever finished the regular season atop the mountain in consecutive years. The feat has only been accomplished once in the history of the Australian men’s national league, when Sydney City went on a three-game winning streak between 1980 and 1982 in the National Soccer League. It is one of the greatest feats of consistent excellence in the history of Australian football.
City’s 14 wins this season equal the 2021-22 season, with two more opportunities to improve on their best total of 15 in 2020-21. Defeated just three times, they are guaranteed to record the fewest defeats in a single season in the club’s history. Their 55 goals scored sit alongside their 2021-22 total and are just two adrift from the previous season. Dispatching 29 goals the other way, they can afford to concede at least three in looming clashes with Western United and Western Sydney before surpassing the club record of 32 set in 2018-19 and 2020-21.
City are putting together one of the best ALM seasons ever in both a statistical and narrative sense. Somehow they improved from 2021 and ’22 despite being forced to adjust to a mid-season coaching change from Patrick Kisnorbo to Vidošić, Jamie Maclaren’s forthcoming fourth consecutive Golden Boot, Mat Leckie looking like the best player in the league, or soon-to-be off-to-Europe Marco Tilio, Jordan Bos and Aiden O’Neill establishing themselves as Socceroos.
At the same time, City’s run for a third successive crown looks the least remarkable of the three, despite being far from it. The most obvious contributor is that the league as a whole has been starved of coverage of late, and that when column inches have been devoted, it has been to more salacious topics.
City’s recent stumbles and Adelaide’s 12-game unbeaten run have provided the League with something approaching a horse race. It’s no fun just writing and talking about City marching relentlessly towards yet another trophy – you want a race, a lovable underdog to CFG-backed conquering behemoth City. The Reds delivered this with their combination of a pumping Hindmarsh Stadium, young local talent and Socceroos hero Craig Goodwin creating an environment where, as a neutral, you wanted them to succeed.
Conversely, once you get past them playing the best football in the league, there’s little in this City side to generate them at all but the most neutral up front. This is the best team in the A-Leagues – well-accredited Australian veterans complemented by a well-funded academy that pumps out prospect after prospect and a global scouting and recruiting network that finds gems their rivals couldn’t. Backed by CFG resources, reaching the top of the ALM leaderboard is a basic expectation.
City should win. While its Manchester cousin looks to complement club football in Europe, with all the existential questions it raises, CFG’s Melbourne outpost continues to march towards a similar model on an Australian scale. It’s why the thought of City not doing it is new and, however cynical the prospect, how it curses moments like a third successive premiership for not having the same impact it would for other parties. In a way, it’s the ultimate compliment you can pay City – the assumption that they will win any game they play.
Now, the upcoming series of Finals presents a new challenge. City have featured in three successive finals, but have only won the trophy once. As long as Australia crowns its champions via an end-of-season playoff, that will stand in the way of the legacy.
But the comparison between Melbourne and Manchester is where the next real frontier lies: the continent. Hampered by COVID, City have only had a chance to compete in the Asian Champions League once and, in that hub-based campaign, failed to top their group. With Australian history made, Asia looms large over any legacy in Melbourne, just as the UEFA Champions League acts as the elephant in the room whenever Manchester is mentioned.