It's fair to say the second youngest club in the A-League has flattered to deceive in its brief history, but they are set to shake things up with a major financial backer
By Iain Strachan
The Manchester City-led takeover of Melbourne Heart could finally see the club make good on its promise of developing an identity based on attractive, possession-based football, with the Socceroos among the potential beneficiaries.
When Heart were founded they sold themselves as the purists' choice, out to win matches and fans by playing a technical, passing game.
To that end they recruited former Netherlands and Ajax player John van 't Schip as inaugural head coach, and have maintained a Dutch link throughout their brief history by signing Rutger Worm, Gerald Sibon, Rob Wielaert and Orlando Engelaar.
You can throw a few Brazilians into the mix too, but the predicted 'total football' never materialised, and ironically it's now Melbourne Victory - guilty of a direct, one-dimensional style under Ernie Merrick when Heart debuted - who now have one of the league's stronger claims to the tag of entertainers.
The failure to develop an identity or achieve consistent results saw the Heart stagnate, on and off the field, to the point where real doubt was beginning to be cast on their long-term viability.
That is all set to change now, with the City-led consortium expected to invest heavily in infrastructure and personnel.
Fit-for-purpose training facilities must be top of the new owners' agenda, as well as an overhaul of the playing group at the end of the season, although Van 't Schip may survive if he wants to be part of the brave new world.
City's director of football Txiki Begiristain, a driving force behind Pep Guardiola's all-conquering Barcelona, says creating an academy with a unified playing style is a priority. The same process - of getting every age group throughout the club using the same formation and tactics - is already underway at City and will not happen overnight.
But with Melbourne Victory also set to expand their development structure beyond a single National Youth League team to the creation of a standalone academy, the future of youth football in Victoria could not be brighter.
With two well-resourced club academies, the Victorian Institute of Sport and Victorian Premier League clubs all seeking to nurture promising talent, the chances of any potential stars slipping through the net will be minimal.
At the other end of the spectrum, expect to see a Heart team populated by a combination of home-grown talent, promising players farmed out from City or their MLS sister club - New York City - and the cream of Australian talent available within the confines of the salary cap.
And then there's the question of domestic and international marquee players. Theoretically, City and new Heart owner Sheik Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan can spend any amount he wants on two players, with money no object. The only question will be what commercial and playing impact the potential recruits can have on the project, and whether or not they are interested in a playing holiday in Australia.
Expect to see some big overseas names coming out of contract at the end of this season touted as targets, while Socceroos stars at home and abroad could be lined up for the domestic spot. Suffice to say Michael Mifsud will not be staying for another season.
While there will be misgivings about a potential talent drain and artificial foundation, the advantages of having a powerful Melbourne Heart in the A-League more than outweigh the negatives.
An elite academy can operate as a conveyor belt for the national side, while a competitive, well-supported first team could see the rivalry with Melbourne Victory grow into one of the biggest derbies in Asia. Bring it on.