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Oct 16, 2009

Schip sails in to Melbourne

I was quite impressed to walk in to a moderately full press conference on Monday morning for the unveiling of Melbourne Heart's inaugural coach, John van't Schip.

With Frank Farina doing his best to steal the headlines and the Socceroos themselves holding an interview session with the players later that morning, at best I thought a handful of local scribes would be on hand to quiz the new boy on his knowledge of Australian players, the A-League and if he was offended by the Hey Hey, It's Saturday sketch.

During the press conference, I thought back to 2003 when NSL club South Melbourne held a press conference at the Bob Jane Stadium to unveil their new chief executive officer, Mark Patterson.

At the time, Patterson's appointment was seen as a good move and a coup for the struggling club. Yet, newspaper editors obviously didn't rate the appointment, given there were more club staff than journalists in attendance. They were lucky to have seven people present - and that was including captain Paul Trimboli and coach Stuart Munro sitting alongside the club president, Peter Mitrakas, and man of the hour Patterson.

At least there were no lines to get to the hors d'oeuvres at the meet and greet afterwards.

There's obviously been a lot of hype surrounding the Heart, from their 'naming' competition to prospective coaches to potential players. The most hype, however, has surrounded how they will generate a supporter base.

I admit I've been a sceptic and a fence sitter. With the Victory boasting such a stranglehold on the city's football supporters, it appeared difficult for a new entity to penetrate their perceived stranglehold.

The Victory has amassed over 20,000 members while their average crowd attendances hover around the 20,000 mark - again, the highest in the league. On the pitch, meanwhile, they have two championships under their belts.

It goes without saying that the task ahead of the Heart is quite challenging, but not impossible. And the key perhaps rests with the man currently joking about signing Ronaldinho, John van't Schip.

The more I listened to Van't Schip, the more I grew to like this man. He appeared measured in his responses and undaunted by the swag of journalists and camera lenses in front of him. And despite leading a brand new team in perhaps the toughest market in the competition, he seems equally undaunted by that task, too. "Perhaps I'm a little bit strange like that," he says.

His football philosophy is all about possession, playing with attacking flair while maintaining balance and discipline in defence. He wants his team to play beautiful football - the Dutch way - and he wants his players to be highly technical and boast tactical awareness and understanding.

Admittedly, he's doing a fine job at selling his art without any paint on the canvas.

While many Victory fans on talkback radio have suggested they wouldn't defect from the club, the fact that there is so much ill-feeling out there towards Victory coach Ernie Merrick suggests that there's a pool from which the Heart can raid.

For all his success with the Victory, Merrick's brand of football is regarded by some as predictable and one-dimensional. Therefore, if the Heart's brand of football is as suave as the 45-year-old Dutchman, it may tempt a few fringe supporters across to the other side.

Before the FFA began dishing out new licences, geography alone determined a fan's allegiance to one of the eight founding A-League clubs. However, the introduction of clubs like Melbourne Heart into the competition has destroyed the one city, one club model and created a choice for the football fan.

It's human nature to see if the pastures are greener on the other side, and when an alternative is offered, it's only natural to peer over the fence.

And when the alternative option, in this case, Melbourne Heart, is providing something so vastly different to what's currently on offer at the Victory, perhaps we should be asking how many fans the Victory could lose as opposed to how many the Heart will have.

Now where are those hors d'oeuvres?

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