“I owe a lot to them” — City coach Kisnorbo looking forward to going back where it all began against South Melbourne

Kisnorbo (in white) in National Soccer League action for South Melbourne
Image Credit: South Melbourne

He’s long progressed past the point of needing to catch the tram down, but Melbourne City coach Patrick Kisnorbo is relishing the chance to return to the place where his professional career began when he leads his side against South Melbourne in the FFA Cup this Friday.

Kisnorbo commenced what would become a long and storied professional career with South Melbourne in 2000; playing 67 games and winning the 2000-01 NSL Premiership alongside the likes of Mehmet Duraković, Paul Trimboli, and Con Boutsianis before earning a move to Scottish side Hearts. 

Now 40-years-old, retired from playing, and coaching defending A-League Men champions Melbourne City, he never thought the day would come when he would return to Lakeside in any sort of official capacity — until his side drew Hellas in the Round of 32 in the FFA Cup. 

Coming just a week out from his side’s opening A-League Men fixture against Brisbane Roar and the FFA Cup representing the one major domestic trophy that eludes him as a coach, the fixture carries significant ramifications for the gaffer and his squad — who are set to be without Socceroos trio Mathew Leckie, Andrew Nabbout, and Jamie Maclaren for the fixture. 

Nonetheless, not even the famously business-like Kisnorbo could suppress a nostalgia-laden grin at the thought of returning to his old stomping grounds for a competitive hitout. 

“It’s a weird one, to be honest,” he said on Thursday. “I started my professional career there at 15. It’s crazy that we drew them. It’s going to be great. I haven’t been to the stadium for ages and hopefully, there are a few people I can see. 

“But I think the main focus is the game and how we go about it.”

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Having come up through the ranks when Hellas was the undisputed powers of Australian football, back-to-back champs in 1998-99 and 1999-20, there are plenty of on-field highlights of his time at what was then Bob Jane Stadium that Kisnorbo can look back on. 

However, his favourite memories of his time at the club don’t revolve around the matches at all. 

“Because I was still underage, I used to catch the tram to Clarendon Street and walk down,” Kisnorbo reflected. 

“I think that whole process and going down to the change rooms, I used to be nervous. Because of all the big players. Ange [Postecolglou] started [as coach] there and then Micky Petersen. 

“But it was the whole thing of going to training and knowing that you were playing and training with the best players in Australia. That was the start of my education.

“The other bits were great. Playing and winning a title and winning the best and fairest, that’s ok, but the start was where the most exciting time. 

“They taught a lot things to me about environment, expectations, hard work. Good people. I owe a lot to them in my education in football.”

Outside of his three absent Socceroos, Kisnorbo is set to have a full squad to choose from against their now NPL Victoria-based foes — the Grand Final winning trio of Marco Tilio, Stefan Colakovski, and Nathaniel Atkinson expected to lead the line for the reigning A-League Men Premiers and Champions. 

New Italian signing Manuel Pucciarelli, seen by the new club as an attacking midfielder, will train today and, having just emerged from hotel quarantine, will be monitored for the fixture. 

While City’s defence will fancy their chances against a South attack that scored just 19 times in 18 games during the cancelled 2021 NPL Victoria season, former Empoli front man Pucciarelli’s talents may prove necessary for Kisnorbo coming up against their strong defence, which conceded just 18 goals across the campaign and has added Spanish keeper Javier Díaz López for the fixture. 

Thanks to the cancellation of their 2021 campaign and Melbourne’s extended lockdowns, coach Esteban Quintas’ Hellas has had a disrupted build-up to Friday evening — with very little in the way of warm-up fixtures available and the club even losing forward Henry Hore to the Roar in September.

Nonetheless, South does have a number of experienced heads with memories of their run to the semifinal of the Cup back in 2017 on hand and, in a way, already have one win over A-League Men opposition this offseason after successfully blocking Western United from using Lakeside for the upcoming season.

“It’s a game that as a young kid, especially at a team like South Melbourne, that you want to play in,” club skipper Brad Norton recently told SMFC TV.

“You want to play in big games and we’ve finally got that opportunity here. Unfortunately for myself, I missed [South’s semifinal against Sydney FC] a couple of years ago, so this is almost my redemption game.

“It’s something that the team is so looking forward to. It’s been a long build-up, probably a lot longer than we all expected, but something that we can’t wait to get out on the field now and go and play in.”

Enjoying Joey’s coverage of Australian sport? Your support helps keep it possible.
You’re seeing this advert because this is an unpaid, self-published piece.

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Header Image Credit: South Melbourne FC

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