Melbourne Victory defender Rodrigo Vargas is well aware that there are high expectations on the A-League club. The 31-year old central defender admits that the two-time champions are now expected to be successful and he concedes that it is probably warranted by their supporters and the sporting public in general.
Since the A-League's inception in 2005, the Victory have been arguably the most successful club, winning two Premierships (for finishing the regular season on top of the table) and two Championships (for winning the Grand Final) and Vargas told tribalfootball.com that winning has simply become part of the fabric.
"I think it's fair to say that. At our club we've got a winning culture and we expect that from every player," he said. "We've got high expectations and high standards and coming second place isn't good enough so we go into every year expecting to make finals and expecting to win trophies and challenging for the title. We expect it of ourselves and I think our supporters expect us to win championships and to play a good brand of football."
Last season, the Victory came agonisingly close to winning a third unprecedented Premiership but were overpowered by rivals Sydney FC on the final day of the regular season and then went down on penalties to the same club in the Grand Final to finish the season as runners-up.
Vargas was asked whether or not he rated the 2009/10 season as a successful one and he was diplomatic with his answer.
"We've got a culture at the club and for us, success is winning trophies and winning medals and championships and if you look at it from that respect, we didn't achieve our goals, which was to win something," he added. "Having said that, we had a great year, we made a final for the second year in a row, we came second in the league, qualified for Asia again and we had some young players coming through so in that sense I think you could say it was a little bit successful and we had a good season but we didn't end up winning anything which was disappointing for us."
This season the Victory will be out to make amends for those shortcomings but will need to do it without the brilliance of the league's all-time leading goalscorer Archie Thompson who is expected to miss most of the term with a serious knee injury.
Vargas knows a player of Thompson's ability will be a huge loss but is confident the depth of the Victory squad and their group of attacking midfielders can overcome his absence.
"We've been consistently one of the top goalscoring sides in the league. Obviously having lost somebody like Danny Allsopp last year and we're missing Archie Thompson this year for a major part of the season so we have to look to step up in that department. Something we can improve on is getting more goals from midfielders. We need two or three midfielders who can score seven or eight goals a year like Carlos (Hernandez) did last year," Vargas added further.
"As far as we know it's (the squad) pretty much settled. We are in the market for a striker, it's well known. The club have spoken to us and we are looking for a striker and as far as we know there are two spots left. So we are looking to sign a key striker but apart from that, the squad is pretty settled. We've got someone like Billy Celeski coming back this year who missed the whole of last year with a knee reco, he'll be pretty much like a new signing and when Kempy (Matthew Kemp) and Archie come back into the side, it will bring a lot of depth to our team and the quality will lift again."
As for himself, Vargas said he felt he could go around for a few years yet and used skipper Kevin Muscat as the perfect example of enjoying football well into your 30s.
"You think about it as you get older. I'll be 32 this year and I'd like to think I've got a few good years left in me. I told my wife the other day that I want to play until I'm 40," he quipped.
"You look at someone like Kevin Muscat who's 37 years old and he's played in Europe for 10-12 years. His body has taken a battering playing 50-60 games a year where I've played in Australia all my life and I play 30 games a year so I'd like to think my body can hold up and barring any injuries I'd like to play for at least another four or five years."
But the most important thing for Vargas and the Victory at present is preparing for the 2010/11 season opener against the team that beat them to the title last season which takes place at the Sydney Football Stadium on Saturday night.
"I wouldn't say it's forgotten but I think we've moved on," Vargas said of last season. "It was very hard to take being our third final, it could have been two in a row. We missed out on finishing premiers by one point in the last game of the season and to lose in a penalty shootout in a Grand Final was hard to take but I think the boys have all moved on and we are looking forward to the first game which as it happens is Sydney again."