That’s exactly what Kevin Muscat has accomplished in his first full year in charge of Yokohama F. Marinos, in the role bequeathed him by longtime mentor Ange Postecoglou.
While Postecoglou has been hoovering up trophies with Celtic, Muscat stayed true to Ange’s ethos of elan when he took charge last season, turning a second place finish into pole position this time round to cement an Aussie dynasty at a club with two J1 League crowns in four seasons.
Now touted as the next Socceroos boss in waiting – should he want the job – Muscat has awakened a wider world to his ability to build a winning formula on a limited budget. And do it in style.
Briefly back in Melbourne – the scene of many a triumph as a player and coach with the navy blue of Victory – Muscat’s mind was already casting ahead to his strategy for next season, having signed a one year extension.
There was no indulging in self congratulation, more quiet pride at bringing more glory to F. Marinos, who had waited 15 years for a league title until Postecoglou came along.
“It’s still feeling a bit surreal – but I couldn’t be happier,” Muscat said. “It was no brainer to sign on for another season and I’m already planning ahead for that. That’s where my mind is focused now.
“There was a big turnover in players last season (32 in all) and we were one of the youngest teams in the competition.
“We used more players during the season I think than any other team and everybody played a part (Marinos also scored the most goals, 70, and conceded the fewest, 35).
“We found a great level of consistency – and really only fell short of our expectations a few times with a little hiccup towards end in losing a couple of home games (against Gamba Osaka and Jubilo Iwata).
“But even then I think we played well and statistically dominated those two matches.
“We showed a lot of character to beat two very good teams to take the title in very good style (a 4-1 win against Urawa Reds and 3-1 over Kobe). That gave me a huge amount of pride.
“We had a single minded approach throughout the season, whether we were winning or losing games.
“The plan now is to build a side which can compete again for the title next year.”
A ball-playing defender during his playing days, with a ruthless streak to his game, Muscat has always been a proponent of putting on a show as a coach.
“We’re a club and a team which chooses to take a few risks in the way we play and we enjoy being part of exciting games which in turn bring entertainment,” he said. “We’re relentless in going forward and attacking teams – that’s the way we play. I enjoyed passing the ball around during my playing days, although other parts of my game may have over-road that a bit.
“But that’s been part of my journey in coaching as well. Hopefully now I’m putting together a solid body of work that maybe gets appreciated a little bit more.
“When I worked with Ange it showed me a lot about how to execute a game plan and I learned so much from him.
“With Marinos we’re building a club philosophy, rather than a coaching philosophy, in that there’s an established style attached to the team. That was my responsibility in taking over from Ange.”
Asked about possible links with the Socceroos post World Cup, Muscat played a straight bat, replying: “We’re just about to start a World Cup campaign and there’s a manager in a job, so there’s nothing for me to talk about.
“But when you do have some success it maybe brings you to the forefront of attention and I suppose that happens.
“But there’s nothing for me to talk about until somebody talks to me.”
Next up for Muscat is a 28 November showpiece friendly with Roma in Japan, where he gets to test his wits with Jose Mourinho.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Muscat said. “A lot of times when these games come round they don’t live up to expectation but I think it’s a great opportunity for us, regardless.
“I won’t us to have a real crack against a very good coach and a very good team.”