2008/09 Player Review - Defenders

Sportal's Bren O'Brien looks back on the performances of every defender on Melbourne Victory's senior list and assesses their efforts in the Championship and Premiership-winning 2008/09 season, including comments from coach Ernie Merrick.

Sportal's Bren O'Brien looks back on the performances of every defender on Melbourne Victory's senior list and assesses their efforts in the Championship and Premiership-winning 2008/09 season, including comments from coach Ernie Merrick.

Kevin Muscat: Games: 24, Goals: 5

As good as Muscat is as a player, and he is still one of the best in the league, it is his ability as a leader which proved vitally important to Melbourne this season. Remarkably he played every minute of the season, anchoring a brilliant defence and providing an excellent launching point for attack. There was barely an instance this season where you could doubt either his composure or his fitness, while his determination kept him at the top of his game consistently.

Muscat believes in his team-mates enormously and over the season, that began to have an effect on the squad. By the end of the season, they were playing the sort of football that has embodied the skipper through his decorated career, fearless and determined. He scored five goals, four from the spot and one from the rebound, and will be an asset again should he choose to play on next season.

Ernie Merrick's comments: Technically a fantastic player. Strategically, incredible, knows the game inside and out reads the play. But even moreso, this on-field leadership, the ultimate in mental toughness. He's got the ability to pull everyone together as a team in adverse conditions. He's just a great captain for the club, a legend of the club, I don't even want to think about replacing him.

Sebastian Ryall: Games: 10, Goals: 0

Ryall has had a big reputation as a young man with an old head on his shoulders. However, it wasn't until he was given his chance later in the season, did he truly show he could mix it with the big boys. After spending much of the first half of the season away on representative duty, he forced his way into the team just before Christmas.

In a defence full of personalities, Ryall went about his task in a no-fuss, efficient manner which made him a valuable asset. He grew enormously under the influence of Muscat and Vargas and deserved his starting spot in a championship side. He leaves the club for Sydney, with the confidence that he belongs at the elite level in this country and perhaps bigger things await for the Young Socceroos captain.

Ernie Merrick's comments: A youngster who will do very well for himself. Mature beyond his years. All-round good player but a leader also as captain of the Under 20s. Big future, he's moving to Sydney for a variety of reasons, but certainly enjoyed his time here and we have enjoyed him being a part of it.

Rody Vargas Games: 24, Goals: 2

Vargas is both an intelligent and durable footballer who has shown himself to be one of the best defenders in the country. There is rarely a sense of theatre about Vargas and he relishes the weekly battles he has with the A-League's best strikers. He is deceptively strong, both on and off the ball, and is also excellent in the air. He scored two goals this campaign, proving his worth from set pieces.

He played every minute of every game alongside Muscat and that gave Melbourne a real stability in defence. Vargas' assuredness at the back allowed Muscat, when needed, to slip into more of a midfield role occasionally and that gave Melbourne's set-up a really dynamic look. Earned his first Socceroo cap recently and appears to be getting better with every year.

Ernie Merrick's comments: Mr Consistent, Mr Reliable, He's a no-nonsense, hard, ball-winning type player who gets the job done. No frills. He and Kevin's combination was superb.

Matthew Kemp: Games: 23 (Started 19), Goals: 0 Kemp's energy from full-back on either side of the park has kept Melbourne rolling when the momentum in the middle of the park slows. The only permanent defender who constantly gets forward, he is always involved in a game, whether it be marauding down the flanks, or engaged in a tooth-and-nail battle with an opposition midfielder.

This year was the most consistent of his A-League career, despite a few issues with injury and suspension. He starred in the two semi-final leg wins over his former club Adelaide, especially in the first leg where he constantly frustrated Adelaide's attempts to break out wide.

Ernie Merrick's comments: Mr Reliable with incredible speed. Very hard to beat because of his speed. When he gets forward, he creates so many things for us. I'd like to see him getting forward even more. After a tough initiation after coming from Adelaide, he withstood that. He's mentally tougher than ever and he's had a great year.

Evan Berger: Games: 15 (Started 12), Goals: 0

Berger's form in the pre-season was so compelling that Melbourne could barely leave him out early in the season. He was so quick and so impressive, that although Melbourne has not been renowned for fielding wide attacking players, he managed to start in 12 games. He is more a wing-back than a full-back, tearing up and down the touchline like a terrier and providing plenty of attacking openings. Opposition teams tried to exploit his attacking instincts, but they under-estimated his tenacity.

An injury mid-season saw him drop off the radar for a while, but he was always there pressing for selection in the run to the championship. He played a significant part in the grand final success, creating the opening with a characteristic burst of speed. He back-heeled to Tom Pondeljak who took aim and the rest is history. Berger is a real player of the future, but his biggest challenge might be finding his best position in the team.

Ernie Merrick's comments: Tremendous, attacking, exciting full-back/wing-back. He's turned games for us. Torn teams inside out and has a great future.

Michael Thwaite: Games: 16 (Started 15), Goals: 0

When Thwaite was lured back from Europe on a loan deal, there was a sense that Melbourne may have pulled off a real coup. A former Socceroo who still has the best years ahead of him. Thwaite commanded a starting spot for pretty much the first two thirds of the season. He was athletic and reliable and eminently likeable, but probably was better suited at centre-back than playing the third defender role. Ryall took his spot and the youngster's compelling form meant Thwaite saw little or no action in the final few games.

He will go to the Gold Coast looking to find a home for a nomadic club career which has featured several European clubs and now two A-League clubs in as many years.

Ernie Merrick's comments: A gentleman, travelled too much and this is his fifth club, Gold Coast, in five years and it's showing in his inconsistency. I reckon he could be a contender for the Socceroos if he sticks at a club and works on his strengths which he's got a lot of.

Steve Pantelidis: Games: 0, Goals: 0

Despite playing a significant back-up role over the first three seasons, Pantelidis didn't break into Melbourne's side at all this season. Leaves the club for the Gold Coast looking for the game time which he didn't get this year.

Ernie Merrick's comments: Kevin Muscat said what we were all thinking at the Victory Medal night. He's a great team player. He's there for the team, he's there when it counts. He's an aggressive ball-winning type of player who never lets you down. Gives 100 percent, all of the time, I think he's going to do very well at the Gold Coast because he is Mr Consistent.

Daniel Vasilevski: Games: 0, Goals: 0

Like Pantelidis did not spend any time on the field this season. His excellent work towards the tail end of season three was enough for him to earn a contract for Melbourne and clearly the club still believes he has plenty to offer providing he can stay fit.

Ernie Merrick's comments: He showed what he can do in the run-in in season three when we were winning games. But has always struggled with physical fitness. If he could get fit, he could be an integral part of our team. He offers that technical ability and pace that is hard to find in full-backs.

Steven Pace: Games: 2, (Starts: 0) Goals: 0

Spent just five minutes on the field this season with Vargas and Muscat fit and available for all 24 games. Continued to offer a solid back-up in defence.

Ernie Merrick's comments: Steve is a terrific prospect. His personality is very good. He's very professional in his approach. He has suffered from injuries and lack of opportunity, I've got a feeling he could be a regular in the A-League.

Next week, midfielders