War Horse – Adrian Leijer


Adrian Leijer has arguably the biggest shoes to fill of any Hyundai A-League player this season, but true-to-form, the new Melbourne Victory captain is not daunted.

Adrian Leijer has arguably the biggest shoes to fill of any Hyundai A-League player this season, but true-to-form, the new Melbourne Victory captain is not daunted.

Whatever you think of Kevin Muscat, he stamped his personality all over Victory during the first six seasons, and he was the inspiration behind the championship successes of 2006-07 and 2008-09.

His farewell at the end of last season had all the drama you would have expected by one of the great characters in the history of the sport in this country. But having eventually disappeared through the red mist and into the life of an assistant coach, Leijer now takes his role, as not only on-field leader, but in many ways a spiritual leader.

Ever since he came into the Victory side as a teenager, the big defender was earmarked as a player of immense talent, not only with the ball, but in terms of leadership.

Playing alongside Muscat was the best apprenticeship the Dubbo-born boy could have wished for. He developed both the skill and leadership aspects of the game and he left for English Premier League outfit Fulham in 2007 close to the finished article.

But as many before him have found, it’s a hard road to the top and after two years he returned to the Hyundai A-League realising his talents were better focussed at home than abroad.

His former coach, Ernie Merrick, a man not known for his sudden outbursts of joy, could barely contain himself at Melbourne Airport when he announced that ‘Ado’ was coming home in 2009.

Leijer was held in such respect that despite the fact Victory were reigning champions themselves, he slotted straight back in. Having completed his undergraduate studies under Muscat, he was now ready for his Masters.

Over the past two seasons, he has become one of the best defenders in the league, while off field he is now among the most respected figures in the game and was recently elevated to the Professional Footballers’ Association executive.

When Muscat announced he would retire at the end of the AFC Champions League campaign, the Victory legend bowed to the future, by ensuring Leijer carried the captain’s armband in his final few matches.

Compared to the dramatic nature of Merrick as coach in March and the protracted and then triumphant manner of Harry Kewell’s arrival at the club, it is not surprising that Leijer’s ascension into the captaincy has gone largely unnoticed.

He’s happy to fly under the radar, with Kewell mania dominating Victory’s build up to the new campaign.

“It’s been fantastic. In Melbourne they are buzzing but even last week when we went to Adelaide it was chaos at the airport. It’s a bit of an eye opener for most of us,” he said this week ahead of the first match.

Leijer won’t tell you, but he had his own ‘screaming at the airport’ moment a few months ago in Korea, when a bunch of local schoolgirls happened upon he and young team-mate James Jeggo at Jeju airport.

With his good looks and boy-next-door personality, he had become quite a hit. He laughed it off at the time, while his much less experienced counterpart is said to be still a little rattled.

Leijer may be big in Korea, but at home Harry is the man everyone wants to talk about. The composure that Kewell has shown has been a great example for his Victory teammates according to his skipper.

“Harry takes it in is stride. The thing that Harry loves most is playing football and that’s what he has said from day one,” he said.

“A guy like Harry walks into the changeroom and it can be a little bit intimidating. He’s just been one of the boys from day one and it’s made it so much easier for all of us.”

If the past six campaigns were all about Muscat and Merrick the next two will be about Kewell and new coach Mehmet Durakovic. Leijer’s role is well defined, but also well contained.

Leijer feels Muscat’s influence is still strong, not just through the influence he has had on his own leadership, but the way he compliments Durakovic’s skills as a man manager.

“He’s slotted into that role very easy. He’s a natural at it. He’s still going to have a fair impact on the side from where he sits,” Leijer says of his mentor.

“It’s great to still have him there and the impact he’s had on the field, hopefully he can replicate it off it.”

Muscat will be watching closely as the kid he helped turn into a man can lead Victory back to the top of the mountain.