What motivates a successful coach?
The joy of victory? The pursuit of excellence? The richness of the journey shared with others? Vindication and proving the doubters wrong?
Mike Mulvey and Mick Malthouse share the same job title. And a name.
And that's about it.
It’s the morning of the A-League grand final and Brisbane Roar coach Mike Mulvey strides across the lawn of the Old Treasury building in Brisbane to meet me for an interview on ABC TV’s Offsiders.
The Roar’s gaffer is dressed in club polo, shorts and thongs. He looks like he’s about to do a spot of gardening rather than face the defining moment of his career.
He greets me with a warm handshake and a broad smile.
“Isn’t this brilliant?” he asks, just before we get the red light to go live around the country.
“We had the back two pages of the paper today. Unheard of. What a great thing for football in this country,” he says with genuine pride.
Behind us, a posse of Roar fans are kicking a ball on the lawn as a backdrop to our chat. Afterward, Mulvey heads over for a kick about and a photo before striding off to meet his destiny.
A few days earlier, Mick Malthouse sits at his press conference looking like an Easter Island statue with a headache.
His Carlton side have just been humiliated by his former club Collingwood.
Malthouse hates these press conferences. It seeps through the words he delivers with a withering gaze and barely sealed contempt to a press corp who cower in his presence.
This is a tale of two Mikes.
One who sees football as a journey to be shared and celebrated, the other who sees it as an endless war to be waged.
Mulvey’s humility and geniality in no way undermines his fierce desire to compete and win. Malthouse’s obsession with winning has seemingly killed any trace of those virtues he may have once had.
Football is a shared experience for Mulvey. As we are waiting for the interview to start, he looks over to the Roar fans with envy. “What a day they’re going to have,” he says quietly.
Mulvey understands that, without the fans, it’s all just a bunch of bozos kicking a ball in a park.
Malthouse's motivations are a secret unto him.
He can't enjoy coaching.
His relentlessly miserable veneer suggests that every day he is waging a battle with the world to prove something.
What it is, no one is sure.
Is it to defy Collingwood, the club that spurned him? Is it the curse of the back pocket player who has had to fight for everything and still needs to prove himself? Is it because the anger required to be Mick Malthouse kindle the fires of his youth and to let it flicker and fade is too scary to contemplate?
Is it because he can't imagine football without him, and life without football?
With Malthouse, football is a walled garden. He’s been so long in its confines he can no longer see the blue sky above.
For him the game is a battle ground belonging to the combatants and the generals who command them from the coaches box. The fans are a foreign country.
Imagine Malthouse having a kick about in the park with the faithful? You’re more likely to see Tony Abbott at a union rally.
Malthouse’s siege mentality makes him beloved of his players, whose loyalty and commitment to him is legend. Within these confines the Malthouse he imagines himself to be is revealed and revered.
After 30 years as a coach, however, he remains a stranger to the fans who follow his teams, as distant and remote as an angry Victorian patrician whose sense of entitlement burns deeper with each passing year.
Mulvey came to Australia as a football immigrant and expresses his gratitude to the game that brought him here.
Malthouse acts like the game owes him something and is yet to pay its debt.
Most importantly, Mulvey allows himself to surrender to the moment and accept the luck and misfortune of the game he loves with good grace.
Malthouse has been so busy, for so long, proving the world wrong that he’s forgotten why he loved the game in the first place.
And a life lived without that joy is not well lived.