Barbieri continuing to lead Melbourne City’s ALW side on and off the park

Just a month shy from her 42nd birthday, Melissa Barbieri is quite used to serving as a dressing room leader and mentor. But when COVID hit Melbourne City’s A-League Women’s change rooms, a different type of leadership was needed from the veteran goalkeeper. 

After initially being able to stage a memorable 5-1 win over local rivals Melbourne Victory despite one of their number testing positive to COVID on a rapid antigen test the morning of, a wave of positive PCR tests in the days that followed forced City out of action across the new year period – including the postponement of their January 2 fixture against Newcastle Jets. 

See Also: Despite COVID chaos, “five-star” Hannah Wilkinson lifts Melbourne City to thumping win over Melbourne Victory 

With a heavy representation from outside Victoria in coach Rado Vidošić’s side, the nature of the club-sourced, shared accommodation a significant number of the squad’s playing group resided in meant that, in the face of the highly communicable Omicron variant, the virus moved rapidly throughout the team. 

Though City moved quickly to move those that had tested positive and those that had escaped a diagnosis into separate lodgings, the challenges the mostly young unit was facing during this period — away from family, friends and preexisting support networks — was obvious. 

See Also: Hopkins urges Victory ALW side to seize their opportunities ahead of Wanderer visit

“It’s difficult,” Barbieri recalls. “I’m at home [in Melbourne], a couple of other players have Melbourne as their home city but a lot of the other players are not – without that support system of their families. 

“I really think myself and Check [City captain Emma Checker] really took it upon our shoulders to make sure that they are doing well.

“I mean, everybody puts on a brave face, don’t we all, so it’s really about asking those nitty-gritty questions and making sure people are feeling heard and being looked after.”

For Barbieri, a particular focus was ensuring that City’s fully vaccinated playing group didn’t feel at fault for the disruptions to training and game postponements. 

“If you think about it, we’re in a time where we’ve done all that we can, we’re vaccinated, we’re doing all the right things,” she said. 

“We’ve got protocols coming out of the wazoo, and if you’re in the unfortunate position of actually contracting COVID It’s not your fault. It’s going to happen to all of us, eventually. 

See Also: A-Leagues fixture pile-up will clear but concern rises over Covid’s long-term impact

“You’ve done all the right things. It’s just like wearing a seatbelt. You know, you can do what you need to do and put the seatbelt on, but you might still get injured in a car accident if that happened. 

“So we don’t want to exclude people. We don’t want to ostracize them. We don’t want them to feel any different than each of us.”

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Barbieri, who holds the Australian record for the longest professional career at 24 years and 338 days (and counting), initially entered this season as the expected back-up to new signing Sally James.

However, an injury to the 19-year-old Young Matilda in pre-season opened the door for ‘Bubs’ to once spot-start for the Citizens – having previously done so when Tegan Micah suffered an injury at the tail end of the 2020-21 campaign.

And with James’ recovery now having been set back by recuperation from COVID, Barbieri, per Vidošić, will likely start once again in her side’s meeting with Adelaide on Saturday afternoon. 

See Also: Kicking it at Coopers: Melbourne City ALW coach Rado Vidošić welcomes Coopers Stadium challenge

“I think I’ve always had the attitude of, I turn up every day and give 100% – whoever is playing at the weekend,” Barbieri said. 

“I’ve been in every position that you can imagine. Whether starting or being a second keeper, third keeper, not even getting a look-in, being told that I was too old… 

“So whatever role I’m given on the day, it’s always about giving 100% to the team and to the club and making sure we feel like a family.”

While Vidošić is bullish about his side’s potential on the pristine surface at Coopers Stadium, Saturday afternoon’s contest looms as a major test for City’s bonafides: the first in which they will be without Winonah Heatley and Holly McNamara after the pair were called up for Matildas’ duty. 

The Reds have increasingly turned South Australia into a fortress in recent times, but the City goalkeeper believed that her side had what it takes to cover the departure of the two wunderkinders. Despite the obvious disappointment of having not gotten the call for the Asian Cup, she was also backing Checker to continue to mount a case that would eventually prove irresistible to Tony Gustavsson. 

“I think that’s the best part of our team this year is that we’ve got really great depth,” she explained. “You’ve seen the likes of Darcy Malone and Meisha Westland coming on and playing that six role even in the toughest of matches. 

“Rado hasn’t even batted an eyelid when it came to making substitutions. 

“If they take the opportunity, then maybe those Matilda’s might have to struggle coming back into the squad!

“If I know anything about Emma Checker, it’s that she’s a stand up professional. She’s a human being and she’s gonna allow those emotions to happen and to feel them and then use everything that happens to dominate on the park. 

“I’ve got to say that the growth I’ve seen from Emma in the three years that she’s been playing here at Melbourne City is just phenomenal. If she can continue to do that sort of growth in the next few years, there’s a Matildas’ call up around the corner.

“Every coach is different, everybody sees people differently and I’m sure it’s just a matter of getting that opportunity and taking it when it arises.”

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.

You can support his ongoing work by buying him a coffee: https://ko-fi.com/joeylynchy 

Header Image Credit: Melbourne City

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