Melbourne Victory’s victory: Global game, local connections

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Archie Thompson and Fred, Victory’s deadly duo
On Sunday, the Melbourne victory crushed Adelaide United, 6-0 at Telstra stadium to win the A-League behind Archie Thompson’s record setting five goals. The man who engineered it all was Fred, the Brazilian midfielder signed on by the Victory at the start of the 2006 season.
Fred’s destination from the Brazilian state of Belo Horizonte to the A-League and the Melbourne Victory illustrates the importance of having a local point man in a country whose endless soccer talent have been cornered for years by the big European leagues but other fledgling leagues have found difficult to find a toehold, partly because of their smaller drawing power and suspicion at the level of corruption in the South American leagues. In the Victory’s case, ex-South Melbourne player, Steve Panopoulos decision to settle down in Brazil after a trip to the World Club Cup championship in 2000 proved to be serendipitious to the Victory’s fortunes. While he was there he fell in love with a local lass, married her and made Brazil his new home.
Panopolous kept up his ties with Ernie Merrick, the Victory’s manager, who knew him from his days at the Victorian Institute of Sports. At Panopolous urging, Merrick made a scouting trip to Brazil in 2006. Merrick with Panopoulos as his interpreter, saw hundreds of hours of soccer footage, went to matches, met with agents. In particular, Merrick liked Fred, a lithe, skilled, and eager 28 year old striker playing for his state side, Belo Horizonte. He was the second highest scorer in the state championships attracting the attention of big clubs, Atletico Miniero and Cruzeiro. Fred played ten years at America MG, a highly regarded club that was also home to Arsenal’s star midfielder, Giberto Silva. Merrick’s dinner with Lothar Matthaus, the German legend who was on a coaching trip to Brazil led to a meeting a Brazilian international who had played with Fred and recommended him enthusiastically. The wheels were set in motion. Fred was given DVDs that familiarized him with Australia and the Victory and learned more on the web. Australia’s standard of living, his insight that he would never make it to the Brazilian national team, his sense of adventure, and probably more importantly, having a local contact like Panopoulos, whose familiarity with Australia would lead to a smoother transition helped in making his decision to sign up with the Victory.
After getting his Bachelor of Science, Panopoulos joined the Stellar Group, the global sports management company in April 2006, becoming part of Stellar’s Brazil group headed by Marcio Bittencourt. Stellar also represented Fred and Claudinho, ex-Atletico Paranaense striker. On May 22, 2006, both Bittencourt and Panopoulos, accompanied Fred and Claudinho to Melbourne where they were met by enthusiastic Victory supporters at the airport. On July 13, 2006 they were joined by Internacional left back Alessandro, also represented by the Stellar Group. The Melbourne Victory’s success story
has done a lot to bridge the gap between South America and Australia and it all began with local connections. This maybe the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship between the Hyundai League and the South American leagues.

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