No-nonsense. Takes no prisoners. The hatchet man is revered by many, but when players careers are put at risk is it time to stop applauding. Here's Neil Sherwin.
The A-League enjoys some fantastic rivalries at the best of times, as exhibited by the fantastic atmosphere at Saturday’s Melbourne derby between the Victory and the Heart. A pulsating game ended 2-2 with John Aloisi bagging two goals to bring his fledgling Heart side back from the dead to claim a point in front of 32,231 spectators at the Etihad Stadium.
Unfortunately, the headlines in the Australian press are not solely confined to what should have been a great advertisement for the game in the country. Instead one man has single handedly undone the good work completed by many thousands.
Kevin Muscat is a name familiar to followers of English football for all the wrong reasons and at the ripe old age of 37, he is still kicking legs.
The poor victim of his latest assault was Melbourne Heart’s 20-year old winger Adrian Zahra. The promising youngster was having a great game until he was scythed down in the 78th minute. Muscat was already on a yellow card, but such was the severity of the challenge, referee Chris Beath opted to dismiss him with a straight red. Initial fears from the Heart medical team were that Zahra has suffered major knee damage, and while scans have yet to be carried out on the injury, a severe cruciate ligament injury is a strong possibility.
“It's not looking good,'' said Heart boss John van't Schip. “The tackle was terrible and hopefully he will recover and return to the pitch but it's not looking good.”
The former Crystal Palace, Millwall and Wolverhampton Wanderers defender amassed a total of 76 yellow cards and 6 red during his time in England, leading Birmingham City defender Martin Grainger to label him “the most hated man in football” in 2000.
In 1998, a horror tackle by Muscat on then Charlton player Matty Holmes left the winger with a steel rod in his leg and needing skin grafts to repair a hole in his ankle. Holmes sued for damages, claiming the injuries ended his career, and he was eventually awarded damages totalling $606,000, plus costs.
Muscat’s indiscretions don’t end there. He seriously injured Christophe Dugarry and Craig Bellamy, both of whom were prepared to give evidence in the Holmes case. It was also rumoured that, during his one season at Glasgow Rangers, he was purposely never selected for a derby against Celtic such were the fears over his mentality.
As recently as October 2010, Ashley Young revealed that while he was an 18 year old playing for Watford, Muscat warned him that his legs would be broken were he to go past the defender.
The most disturbing thing about the Zahra tackle was Muscat’s instant reaction of zero remorse. His first instinct was to claim he won the ball and his second was to abuse the referee upon receiving the red card.
Mark Bosnich and Robbie Slater were the pundits conducting the post match analysis on Fox Sports’ Hyundai Match Day Saturday. While former Manchester United and Aston Villa goalkeeper Bosnich condemned the tackle and stated that Muscat should be suspended for as long as Zahra is injured, Slater attempted to play down the tackle, saying he is a fan of his ex-international colleague and the Victory captain is more disliked rather than hated. The @HyundaiMDS Twitter account was immediately flooded with outraged tweets about Slater’s bias towards one of the ‘old boys club’ that many feel is prevalent in Australian football.
Muscat did offer an apology on Sunday morning, and also said that it may be the game’s way of telling him that it’s passing him by.
“My number one concern - my only concern - is the welfare of Adrian,” he said. “It was an incident that I deeply regret. It was a mistimed tackle - dreadfully mistimed - but at no point did I have any intent to injure the player.
“In the next couple of days I will take the opportunity to try and contact him and pass on my sentiments, if he'll accept them.”
It remains to be seen how the Football Federation of Australia deal with this latest incident, but the pressure will be on to impose a severe penalty on the man who was the first player to appear in front of the FFA’s disciplinary panel following the league’s inception in 2005.
Even with all the developing rivalries in the A-League, the majority of fans in Australia are united when it comes to Kevin Muscat – he is a thug and needs to go.
Neil is the co-editor of the wonderful BackPageFootball.com, and you can follow him on Twitter @neilsherwin