It may come as a surpirse to some, but Kevin Muscat is not the type to raise his voice as a manager. Ross Aloisi, who’s played with him, managed against him and worked as his assistant manager last year, knows that all too well.

Which is why in early April last year, during the season that the now Brisbane Roar-coach Aloisi was working as Muscat’s assistant at Yokohama Marinos in Japan, he was caught off guard by a half-time team talk.

“He doesn't get angry as a coach,” Aloisi assures the interviewer, who'd gently suggested that such a sentence might not have been used to describe Muscat the player.

“He’s changed a lot - you’re right, he could be angry as a player but he’s evolved having become a coach.

“I remember one time that changed, we were playing away against Kashima Antlers and the Marinos hadn’t beaten them away from home for something like a decade. We’d totally dominated the first half without scoring and at the break, Kev just raised the volume of his voice noticeably, with the translator matching his exact tone. It was out of character but exactly what the team needed at that moment. In the second half, we smashed them and Kev said to me after, ‘I just smelled blood’. He knew that we had them and he let the players know that with his actions.”

Marinos would win 3-0, scoring in the 81, 90 and 94th minute on their way to that season’s title - no mean feat given the players lost during the previous summer and financial uphill battle compared to other clubs in the J League. Muscat version 2.0, the studious, tactically astute coach, is a man who’s long-known how to get the best out of a group during his playing career as a captain. But, as Rangers continue to interview Muscat and others in search of Michael Beale’s successor, who is Kevin Muscat the manager?

Aloisi has known Muscat as an opponent, teammate and boss. The duo played together for Australia at the Olympics, against one another domestically, managed in opposite dugouts while assistants at Brisbane Roar and Melbourne Victory respectively and finally joined forces in Japan last year.

Now back in Australia as a manager of Brisbane in his own right, Aloisi has plenty of first-hand experience to reflect upon when quizzed on Muscat’s credentials.

“He’s the best captain I ever played under and as a manager, he knows how to get the best out of people. When to put an arm around them, when to let people know he’s not happy when to lift the training sessions," he tells the Rangers Review.

“His style of football is very aggressive with the ball and high pressing without it. Kev has been like that for a long time. Obviously, he's grown as a manager, his man-management is very good as well. He definitely does get the best out of players. His style of football is very attacking and possession-based - not possession just to keep possession but to go forward and play through lines with a lot of forward runs.”

Adrian Leijer, who first knew Muscat as a teammate at Melbourne Victory before the 50-year-old moved to become Ange Postecoglou’s assistant, harbours similar memories. Much like former Celtic and now Tottenham manager Postecoglou, Muscat's football is fast, somewhat uncompromising and boasts a successful track record. Behind the product on the pitch is a set of leadership qualities and people skills that were evidenced throughout his 500+ game playing career that spanned Australia, a single-season and treble at Ibrox, spells at Wolves, Crystle Palace, Millwall and Melbourne Victory.

“Oh, look I absolutely love him,” Leijer says, happily recalling memories of a man for whom he evidently holds the highest degree of respect.

“He was my teammate and my coach, I've seen him as an assistant coach, as a first-team coach and also played alongside him. In terms of Kev as a person, I absolutely love him and in terms of what he brings as a manager tactically and how he’s developed over the years, I can’t speak highly enough of Kev.

“As a player, he had that real white-line fever and was quite aggressive. But I think looking at the way he manages and the way his teams play, he's a very, very good coach.”

Leijer, now retired, first encountered Muscat when he was a young 18-year-old defender breaking into the Melbourne Victory team and witnessed his journey from player, to assistant and eventually manager when Postecoglou left to take charge of the national team in late 2013.

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“As a captain and as a leader, Kev’s the best I've played under,” he continues.

“As a manager, he demands that respect and puts pressure on you as an athlete. He's got that natural ability to lead, and I think that's also one of the main reasons he's doing so well on the coaching front.

“I think certain certain managers just have that. When Kev would speak you’d just want to do absolutely anything for him and the team, when he was a player and a manager. Ange is much the same in that you know he’s tactically excellent and when you leave team talks you have so much confidence.

“I believe that generally, people are natural-born leaders. Yes, they have to work at it and when you’re a coach you always have to find ways to motivate a group, but for some people, leadership comes naturally. I’ve known Kev since he was about 30 years old and have seen him develop into the coach he is now. Looking from the outside in, going to Japan and getting Marinos to play the football that they do, always pushing for trophies in what is a very challenging environment, that speaks volumes too.”

Comparisons across the Old Firm are never easy, nor comfortable, and Muscat’s association with Postecoglou who only recently won a treble for the other side of the city is undeniable. He’s succeeded him at Yokohama Marinos in Japan where he remains in charge to this day and Melbourne Victory in Australia having previously worked as Postecoglou's assistant and played under him. Postecoglou is a long-term mentor and similarities in style between either manager are clear.

If not for his playing association with Rangers Muscat’s name would perhaps not be so hot in the media. What should not be lost is the job he’s done in Japan and the success he’s enjoyed throughout his managerial career bar a short spell in Belgium convoluted by the fact that his coaching badges did not translate over to Europe at the time.

Both Leijer and Aloisi touch upon those themes while reiterating that Muscat is his own man, with his own ideas, successes and tactical nuances. To suggest he’s simply benefitted from Postecoflou’s building blocks fails to appreciate the jobs done at either club.

“100% yeah, he's his own man and that's probably the most important thing in this,” Leijer says on the comparison.

“Although Ange has been a mentor, and everyone has mentors in all walks of life, Kev is his own man who does things his own way. At Marinos, he's had a lot of challenges, lost a lot of good players and had to bring in new ones. The budget at Marinos is not as high as a lot of the other teams around him. While he's sort of followed Ange’s pathway, I think Kev's his own man in his own right and a very good coach.”

“There's two coaches, that have worked under Ange for long periods of time. One was Peter Cklamovski (now in charge at FC Tokyo) and the other one was obviously Kevin,” Aloisi adds.

“The way that Ange works, or has worked in the past, the number one assistant takes the majority of the training sessions, with the main tactical details still coming from the head coach and Kev works in the same way. His football is similar to Ange's, of course, but what a lot of people don’t realise is the challenges he’s faced. Kev's lost plenty of players while in charge of Marinos, to go and win the Premiership having lost so many individuals without a big budget to bring others in was huge. This season they’re sitting second despite their budget probably being the sixth or seventh biggest in the division.

“Obviously I’m a little biased but I believe we played the best football in Japan during that 2022 season. Of course, he’s taken a lot from Ange but Kev has brought in his own style too which is very aggressive. I think he works a little bit more on his defensive structure, which I was very involved in during my time on his staff, compared to Ange. Although of course, I don't know what Ange does at at this moment in time.”

So, how does a Kevin Muscat team play and how does he coach that style? His current Marinos side have normally utilised a 4-2-3-1 this season with dynamic forward movement, aggressive pressing, a serious threat from wide areas and forward-thinking mode of possession. Often morphing into more of a 4-2-4 on the ball and pressing out of a 4-4-2 without the ball. Muscat's principles of attacking each opponent, trying to regain possession as quickly as possible and dominating proceedings remain unwavering from game to game.

Muscat is less reliant on full-backs to progress the ball in ‘traditional’ inverted full-back roles, often using them to make forward runs that dismark others and upset defensive blocks. He has a clear idea of how his teams should play on the ball but recent history at Marinos shows he’s able to adapt to the individuals available - something that would be an immediate priority in order to work with the squad he’d theoretically inherit at Ibrox.

In terms of tactical details and Muscat’s philosophy, there are few better placed to provide insight than the man who acted as his assistant manager last season.

“He’s had to change the way he's played this season as well because he did lose a couple of key players,” Aloisi continues.

“So he's playing a little bit differently now, partly because we pressed so high last season a lot of clubs started to do the same. Kev will adapt to the players he has and tactically he’s very, very intelligent. He knows exactly what the opposition is doing as well. Kev adapts to what he’s got and he’s always successful, like everywhere he’s been, he’s been successful. That for me, is phenomenal.

"What I mean is that he adapts to the players he’s got to fit his style. So if he's got certain players, he'll play the same brand of football but in a different way. For example, if he doesn't have an out-and-out striker, he might play someone higher, probably not as an out-and-out striker, but between the lines and then you'll get forward runs from that individual.

“In his press, he will adapt to the opposition, but the playing style on the ball stays the same. Kev will adapt to what he’s got while playing the same brand of football, which is very entertaining, but entertaining with the aim of winning. Like I said, he also knows that if his team's got weaknesses defensively, he will work on those.”

Muscat is never going to be a manager who sets up in low blocks or adopts multiple different systems but neither, it appears, will he rigidly stick to an unwavering plan. 

“In that final third, it's unpredictable - that's where the style of play hurts a lot of opposition teams,” Aloisi continues.

“He might have a full-back moving into the No.10 position and, you know, who tracks that player? Or it might be one of your No.6s running beyond, or your full-back and winger swapping positions. It’s very unpredictable which makes it hard for teams to defend against.”

Take this recent goal from Marinos' 4-1 win over Shonan Bellmare as an example. Attacking a deep defence early in the game the role of each full-back proved key.

Muscat's left-back, Koike, starts the move by playing the ball wide to Eiber before continuing his underlapping run. While not receiving the ball again, this commits the Shonan defender (highlighted in yellow) who'd otherwise double-up on the ball carrier, earning Eiber more time and space to cut infield and allowing Marinos to dominate a three-vs-two in the opposition's favour.

In outplaying with fewer men, Marinos have space and numbers on the opposite flank where they can switch to their right-back, moving into a central position. Look at the positioning of both full-backs as the goal is scored. As Aloisi says, "You might have a full-back moving into the No.10 position and, you know, who tracks that player?"

That may be the style, but how is it created? Could Muscat implement his philosophy during a season and work with a squad at Rangers that appears, on the surface, built for a very different way of playing?

“He is very, very demanding on the training park,” Leijer says reflecting on the man he worked for and alongside.

“His style of play starts with hard work and once you’ve got that foundation, that almost allows you to play the football that you want to play.

“There are certain patterns of play, even if the way he wants to play will have progressed since he coached me. It's very attractive and I think players, especially in this day and age, want to play attractive football. Fans really appreciate attractive football and yeah, it takes time to implement that into a new team, but I think Kevin has got everything under his belt now that he can go and do it at a club like Rangers.”

Aloisi has spent hundreds of recent hours on the training pitch understanding and implementing the ideas Muscat harbours and tailoring sessions to those demands.

“Kev works with certain exercises in the attacking third which are heavily focused on movement and playing between the lines," he continues.

"That feeds into everything he does, whether it’s rondos, small-sided games, attack-vs-defence. There’s lots of work on attacking overloads and a gradual build from playing three-vs-two to five-vs-seven and so on -  there's also minimum rest between exercises.

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"The maximum would be three minutes and in that time, this is where Kev is very, very good and I had to adapt a lot because at Marinos you've got a translator for the Japanese players. You’ve got to speak English for the translator to explain what’s happening in three minutes.

"Or you might do a five-minute attack-vs-defence drill with a minute break and then you’re going in for another five. In that 60-second break, you’ve got to give that information so you’re coaching on the run a lot. Everything Kev wants his teams to do on the pitch comes within those attacking exercises and then there’s plenty of tactical work. Lots of pattern play and rehearsing certain movements in the final third.

“Sessions at Marinos would range from 70 minutes too, very rarely, 90 minutes worth of training. Kev is also big on doing a lot of extra work post-training. So you’d do your team session for say an hour and then you’d do another section afterwards which is more position-specific training - we’d split it into team training and then position and development programmes.

"That might mean I was working with the defence on build-up, another coach could be taking the midfielders through a session focused on receiving playing forwards and finding solutions while a third focused on the attackers. Kev's really big on making the most of set-plays as well.”

Questions remain about whether the current Rangers squad is suited to Muscat's style of play regardless of his adaptability. This looks to be a team built for a very different method of football, carried out at a slower pace. Even if it boasts plenty of good players who would all likely back themselves to learn a new system and adopt fresh ideas.

Those who know Kevin Muscat describe a diligent manager who's matured since his playing days. One who's learned plenty from Ange Postecoglou but remains his own man. Who's enjoyed success in Australia and Japan with years of experience and has a track record of instilling a successful, attacking style of play.

Will he be the man James Bisgrove and John Bennett turn too? Only time will tell.