Melbourne Heart: A resurrected Schip

If you were to wind the clock back to the beginning of this year you would find Melbourne Heart in disarray. Fresh off the back of dismissing manager John Aloisi, the Heart’s existence and even its relevance to the A-League was in question.

To be fair, Aloisi’s team at the end of his tenure was a shambles. Heart were rooted to the bottom of the ladder on just 4 points after 12 games, and had not won in 17 games – 2 short of the longest losing streak in the A-League’s history. The club’s supporter base was overwhelming in its demands to sack Aloisi in the weeks leading up to the decision and considering their relatively small average attendance was in decline it was reaching a point of crisis.

Some still criticised the sacking, saying that a starting XI which had been impacted by injuries to key players and was varying from week-to-week needed stability, not a change at the helm. Such an argument seems logical enough, but what we have seen in 2014 from the Heart is enough to prove it wrong.

John van’t Schip’s turnaround has been a culmination of things finally coming together for the Heart. For starters, he’s had marquee Orlando Engelaar, Patrick Kisnorbo and Harry Kewell on the park on a consistent basis. Engelaar’s mere presence in the midfield would frighten the daylights out of most, and he’s showed recently that he can use his massive frame to effect with powerful strikes in each of the last 3 games. Kisnorbo proved his worth with a goal-saving tackle on Besart Berisha in the dying seconds of Heart’s 1-0 win over Brisbane late last month and has been instrumental in their current run of 3 clean sheets in a row. Kewell, if nothing else, has an incredible amount of experience in the caper and it’s handy that he’s beginning to hit his straps as his fitness improves.

Aloisi supporters will reasonably reply by saying that if he had those 3 players – which he all signed – at his disposal, there’s nothing to say that he wouldn’t have reaped the sort of rewards van’t Schip is experiencing at the moment. But there have been too many signs to suggest that van’t Schip’s managing is on another level Aloisi.

An example from as recent as the weekend demonstrates how van’t Schip is far more willing to take risks with tactics to put the opposition on the back foot than Aloisi. Instead of being reactive by letting the opposition dominate proceedings before making tactical adjustments – as Aloisi often was – van’t Schip began the derby with a 3-4-3 formation. Such a formation – with 3 in front of an attack-minded midfield – was the perfect move to challenge the Victory whose defensive options were reduced so much that usual left-back Adama Traore was forced to play alongside youngsters Nick Ansell, Jason Geria and Scott Galloway.

The risk was conceding goals at the rate they planned to score them, but with Heart’s in-form defensive pairing of Kisnorbo and Rob Wielaert joined by the consistent Jason Hoffman, they could easily cut out Victory’s dangerous crosses. Their performance was made to look all the more classy with great support from Massimo Murdocca and Jonathan Germano who scurried around in front of them and hassled the Victory’s attacking midfielders into submission.

At the rate they’re going, Heart will surge into the finals. Their mentality going forward is predictable, shown on Fox Sport’s Matchday Saturday straight after their derby win when Adam Peacock pleaded with van’t Schip not to answer “Where do you go from here?” with “We’re taking it one week at a time”. The Dutchman paused, before breaking out into a grin and saying “One week at a time.”

To be perfectly honest, if Heart can make the finals with the momentum they’ve built up under van’t Schip, they could find themselves having the most successful season in their history. And 3 months ago who would’ve thought that?

About Tom Riordan

Tom Riordan is in his second year of a Bachelor of Journalism at Swinburne University. He loves all sports, and plays for Brunswick Cricket Club. He supports the Western Bulldogs and can be found on weekends among half a dozen others in Q38 on the top level of the MCC.


  1. By extension, you raise the question of the importance of the Gaff. Victory and Mariners have lost their helmsmen.

  2. Ripper analysis Tom. Many thanks.
    I have been fascinated by the Heart story, because my usual take is that the coach gets let down by the players more than the other way round.
    “If you haven’t got socks, you can’t pull them up.”
    But first Boof, and now Schip are clearly showing that creating a positive environment can get way more out what was a seemingly recalcitrant crew only a few months back.
    My theory (hope??) is that Adam Simpson is Chapter 3 in this story. I seriously think that Woosha totally lost the plot last year, and the players just gave up because of his antiquated game plan and other things.
    Early days yet, but I have a feeling we will have Fortress Subiaco again and return to the bottom part of the Final 8 (which is about our talent level – and is certainly a whole lot better than last year’s pathetic rabble).
    Thanks again for your insight into Schip and the Heart.

  3. Sounds a bit like the Adelaide United team. They have come from the clouds after being written off. Go the Reds

  4. Peacock’s chat with van’tSchip was gold….2 excellent media performers secure in their positions

  5. Dennis Gedling says

    A magnificent turnaround by the Heart and keeping United and their amazing comeback out of the spotlight.

    Aloisi had to go. Heart dropped a massive bollock in the first place signing him over Ante Milicic just to get a few bums on seats because he was an ex-Socceroo. Milicic always had more potential and is now showing it at Wanderers and (hopefully) the Socceroos.

    I’m really happy for David Williams too. I’m always hoping one of the indigenous boys in the league can always take the step up and he’s finally showing the consistency that goes hand in hand with his abundant talent. Now joint top scorer in the league.

  6. Peter Fuller says

    I certainly agree that Milicic should have got the job rather than Aloisi. However, I suspect that marketing considerations encouraged the management to go for the bigger name, given Heart’s small supporter base.
    No-one in the thread has yet alluded to the impact of the Manchester City involvement. While I’m conflicted by it, I think it is a contributory factor in the Heart’s revival. Previously, the small following coupled with the dreadful results created a real sense of instability. It wasn’t completely fanciful to wonder if a club which was failing to perform on the field could survive. The injection of resources from Man. City removes that threat. It also provides carrot and stick incentives to all at the club – players and administrators. It should provide some security about the future, but also a corresponding obligation to perform, with harsh consequences for those who fall short of the paymasters’ expectations.

  7. Luke Reynolds says

    Well written Tom. What a turnaround. Very unusual these days for a club to go back to an old coach. Will be fascinating to watch the changes made by Man City over the next 6 months and how that affects the soccer landscape in Victoria.

  8. cowshedend says

    As always, fantastic analysis Tom, the gaffer has indeed stripped them back and rebuilt.
    Engelaar is pivital to them, he can’t be shifted off the ball and his passing can be exquisite.
    On the other hand Victory has been terrible (coincidentally or not) since Ange departed.
    They have copped some mothers of hidings (regardless of the poor send off, when they were 2 down anyway).
    Where to now for the Victory?

  9. Cheers for the support guys.
    I think mentally the players would have been spurred on by the City takeover because it’s something they would really want to be a part of.

    Denis, I’ve also been really impressed by Williams and he’s very important for them heading into the final 5 games.

    Cowshedend, as much as I hate to say it, Heart are easily better than us at the moment and look far more stable on the pitch

  10. The Manchester City intervention is very significant. Having talked to some of the players and staff there is no doubt that around the place there is a huge desire to seize this once in a lifetime chance of being in on something unique in the game in this country. It is not just Man City and its English heritage, but the strong Barcelona/Cruyff connection and the drive at top to become a world presence through football. Man U and Real Madrid have shown the way, Bayern Munich and PSG are planning to follow, so though the Heart may be a small cog and never more than a middling one, this is potentially a dramatic change for the club and its current people. Some will be discarded, but the ones who show the right attitude, commitment, willingness to change and vision will prosper. So Heart can surf that wave till the end of this season and you can bet there are lots of players here and overseas who will jump at any chances to join the adventure.

  11. Roy, any danger of that corrupting the salary cap ethos?

  12. I doubt it but it is possible. But I think City have been very sensible about the way they have gone about the whole Australian operation. They could easily have afforded to take over WSW which is on the market and up till now has been more successful onfield and in attracting spectators. Yet they went for Heart, I suspect, because there is much more upside within the rules of the game in the A-League. So given that they have a ‘development’ league and a development club, I suspect they will be looking to draw the majority of their players long-term from their proposed academy program. A couple of high profile ‘Marquees’, one Asian, on European and the nucleus of the present side and you are off and running. Perhaps a couple of Man C youngsters on loan for a season if they have the right coaching structure in place here, so that there is no danger of the kids going backwards. Please don’t discount the talent that Heart has off the field at the moment. Scott Munn, the Didulica brothers, John van’t Schip would all rank among the most impressive people in their respective roles in the league.

  13. Thanks for your input Roy, much appreciated

    I have to agree with you in that the City takeover will provide Heart with a lift which will have a lasting effect on the club and hopefully set them up for years to come. The idea of Heart leaving a visa spot open for one of City’s youngsters to come out on loan is appealing and could be an attraction for fans excited to see a future star of the Premier League play for their club.

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