No friendly hardman’s in town

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Forget any thoughts of Saturday’s exhibition football match at the Events Centre being some limp-wristed affair – because Kevin Muscat is lacing up his boots.

The Melbourne Victory captain has been the midfield hard man of Australian football for more than 15 years – and he’ll be up for the fight when he leads the A-League champions against the Wellington Phoenix.

And you can take that literally.

Muscat’s knocked over opposition coaches, he’s tackled a player so fiercely that amputation was feared, he’s gripped opposition players by the throat and he was once – not that long ago – dubbed the most hated man in football.

He’s even been sued by a player in England – he mowed down Matthew Holmes in 1998 with such ferocity the Charlton player needed four operations to save his leg. A High Court claim was settled without any admission of liability – settlement and costs amounted to $NZ2 million.

Grand Final, World Cup qualifier, international friendly, knockout or pre-season game – it makes no difference to the midfielder’s aggressive approach. In one “friendly” encounter, when the Socceroos drew 1-1 with France in 2001, Muscat scythed down Christophe Dugarry so severely from behind he left the Frenchman nursing knee ligaments for three months.

“We came here to play a game, not to fight,” France coach Roger Lemerre said. “It was an act of brutality.”

But it’s this hardman approach that’s made Muscat, 35, such a crucial strike weapon in any team.

His Socceroos career ran from 1994-2008 for 51 caps. And his 10 seasons in Britain included spells at Millwall – club anthem No One Likes Us – and Glasgow Rangers, where he was banned from playing Old Firm matches against Celtic for fear of inciting violence among fans, as well as Crystal Palace and five years at Wolves.

His Victory coach Ernie Merrick, who picked Muscat as a 16-year-old in his first rep team, coaxed him back from England to lead the A-League side – that faith was repaid in February this year with the 1-0 Grand Final triumph against Adelaide United.

“If there’s one player I wouldn’t want to be without for the Grand Final, it’s Kevin,’’ Merrick said beforehand.

And you wouldn’t be surprised to hear Muscat played every minute of every match in last season’s A-League comp. That’s value.

Speaking of which, for the $20 price of your ticket this Saturday, you can expect bloodshed and broken bones.
With the Kiwi side taking on the champs, you might leave disappointed – but with Muscat in full flight, you probably won’t.

Once the All Whites were eliminated, former Sydney Daily Telegraph managing editor of sport Garry Ferris would cheer on the Socceroos – and his hero Kevin Muscat – through two ill-fated World Cup campaigns