Victory slips further into the mire as founding investor resigns from board and slams club’s direction

Melbourne Victory’s calamitous 2020-21 season has taken another turn for the worse after director Richard Wilson declared that he could not support the club’s direction and resigned his position from the board on Monday. 

A founding investor and director at Victory, Wilson also had a two-year stint as the club’s managing director – during which time they lured Ange Postecoglou back to Melbourne. 

He, as well as friends and family that also hold stakes in the club, will now seek to sell their stakes in the four-time A-League Champions; indicating that they will explore the possibility of selling them to fans and supporters of Victory to increase their say in how the club is run. 

In a statement, the businessman, who is also the current chairman of Balwyn Football Club, said that the direction the club had taken in recent seasons and the disagreements that it had created between himself and Chairman Anthony Di Pietro led to his decision to step away. 

“This is a very sad moment for me. I am a foundation shareholder, a foundation director and a former senior executive with the club,” Wilson said. “My decision to resign as a director of Melbourne Victory FC comes about as a result of the direction the board has taken over the past two to three years. 

“I have increasingly grappled with the impact this has had on our club. Accordingly, I have reached a view that I cannot support the direction taken by the board, which leaves me at odds with the chairman. 

“In relation to shares held by my family and others, these will be sold on the market to offer fans, supporters and members an opportunity to have a real say in how the club moves forward.”

COVID-19, as it has all A-League sides, has hit the side by the Yarra hard, but the trend pre-dates the pandemic’s arrival.

Though still one of the biggest clubs in the A-League, Victory has been slowly slipping backwards since their famous “Heist in the Hunter” Grand Final triumph in 2017-18. 

The season after, Victory was hammered 6-1 in the 2018-19 semifinals in what was Kevin Muscat’s final game in charge before he resigned his post to immerse himself in the challenges of European club football. They then subsequently crashed to their worst-ever league finish of 10th the following campaign. 

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That season began with former Adelaide United boss Marco Kurz in charge of the club’s A-League side but after just 13 games – the third-shortest stint in A-League history – he was recognised as a poor hire and sacked and subsequently replaced by former Muscat assistant Carlos Salvachua. 

Though initially tasting some success in the Asian Champions League, Victory’s domestic form failed to kickstart under the Spaniard, and he opted to join Muscat in Europe during the competition’s COVID-enforced shutdown. 

Academy coach and club-legend Grant Brebner was then brought in as a caretaker for the remainder of the 2019-20 campaign and despite initially ruling himself out of consideration for the job permanently, made an about-face and won the full-time role over John Aloisi during the most recent offseason. 

While Victory’s has consistently exhausted its foreign allocation during this period, Ola Toivonen stands as the only international to represent a home-run signing during this period.

Off the park, the club’s efforts to lay down a footprint of its own and build an $18 million women’s and youth facility at Footscray Park fell through in late 2019 in the face of a fierce campaign from local activists. 

Arguably, the only consistently strong aspect of Victory over past seasons has been the performance of its W-League program: which won its first-ever Premiership in 2018-19 and made back-to-back finals campaigns under Jeff Hopkins. Promisingly, steps were also taken to eliminate fees in the academy in early 2020.

Victory, for their part, released a statement on Monday afternoon declaring that the club was now seeking to move forward in a “unified way”.

“The Club is both saddened and disappointed by comments attributed to Richard Wilson on his exit as a director of the Club today,” the statement read. 

“Mr Wilson is a foundation director of Melbourne Victory, however at this time the Board along with a number of shareholders welcome his exit, which has been the subject of discussion for some time.

“The Club now has an opportunity to move forward in a unified way. The Board values our shareholders, partners, members and fans and without further distraction, will continue working tirelessly to improve and drive results amidst these challenging times.

“The Club will not be commenting further on this matter.”

Starting a stretch of five home games that Brebner earmarked as ‘season defining’, Victory suffered an A-League 1-0 defeat to Newcastle Jets on Sunday evening; leaving them nailed to out-right bottom of the A-League table with just a single win from their seven games played. Pockets of fans broke out into boos following the final whistle of that contest, with Brebner subsequently declaring that they were “justified” in their frustrations. 

Wilson told The Age following his announcement, though, that his resignation was not down to that result and was instead due to his perceptions of an ongoing trend of malaise.

Victory is set to host Wellington Phoenix – who sit second-bottom on the A-League table – at AAMI Park on Wednesday evening. 

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