'Piecing the puzzle': Beyond Football with Patrick Kisnorbo
Patrick Kisnorbo might just be Melbourne City’s first-ever true club legend.
His contributions to the club – including 76 appearances, currently 6th on our all-time list – extend beyond the football pitch itself, with the former-Leicester and- Leeds defender achieving success behind the touchline as the Championship-winning coach with City’s indomitable Women’s side.
‘PK’, as he’s referred to by just about everyone you speak to at the club, has been there for some of the club’s highest-highs, including that famed MFN season of 2015/16, but has also endured some of it’s lowest-lows.
“Everyone knows about how difficult the Heart days were,” the now-38-year-old admits.
“We battled through some tough times but no matter what, the boys really, really tried a lot – and hard – to win for the fans,” he says, “It wasn’t just for us and the club but the fans because obviously we knew how difficult times were, so the only way to be upbeat and happy was to win collectively together.”
Having arrived in Melbourne on the back of spells with Leicester, Leeds and then Ipswich, Kisnorbo admits that being thrown in the deep end during Heart’s darkest days – that 13/14 season – brought him right back to reality, an experience which he now concedes he’s grateful for:
“Even though there were some hard times, it’s definitely character-building and it makes the team collectively come together because you’re in the same position and you’ve got to work for everything.”
“It brought you back down to Earth a bit.”
Dealing with less-than-ideal training conditions and infamously substandard facilities, Kisnorbo elected to adopt a professional, no-excuses mindset that he’d later convey as a head coach after his playing career was over:
“I said it when I coached the girls, but when you start playing football, you don’t play to get good changerooms. You play to win.”
“I was there to do a job,” he finishes.
The conversation turns to the blue skies and blue kits that came with the City Football Group takeover, a decisive moment in the club’s history and one which set Kisnorbo on his present path.
“Manchester put a project in place for us to be better at our craft,” he says of the takeover.
That being said, money can’t buy everything, and certainly not in this league, with Kisnorbo addressing the misplaced expectations of cynical onlookers who use the Group’s strong financial backing as reason to critique its Melbourne-arm, “We’ve got a name behind us so we’re expected to do big, big things – even though it’s a salary-cap league.”
That being said, Melbourne City, as it became known, has certainly achieved big, big things on the Women’s side of the game following the establishment of its inaugural team for the 2015/16 W-League campaign.
Our famous Invincibles season followed, laying the foundation for our girls to go on to win the next two W-League Championships as well, with Kisnorbo at the helm for the most recent of which, an achievement which he describes as “the highlight of my career.”
“It’s exactly like the A-League, but for women,” he explains in relation to the professionalism and elite standards upheld by the club and players.
They are standards that he asserts have since truly raised the bar for other Women’s sides in Australia:
“Clubs have a decision: Either you invest in it or you don’t. If you don’t invest, you don’t get the rewards. If you do, you have every chance to do that.
“Now you see other clubs doing that and it’s great to see because the women’s game is growing rapidly and that’s what you want.”
As a coach, Kisnorbo has learned to devise his own managerial style and to express his personality as he exerts his influence on the players in training sessions, leading to the development of one of his more infamous quirks out on the training pitch.
“I always have this tendency to start speaking Italian, whether it’s good or bad,” the half-Italian, half-Mauritian explains, referencing his inclination to shout instructions and encouragement in other languages to get a reaction out of his players, “I’ll throw in a bit of Spanish, I’ll throw in a bit of French… I really call it the PK language.”
“There’s no such thing as PK language but people understand it,” he continues, “Even though we’re all from different walks of life, they understand how I speak and it’s crazy.
“Even the coach starts using the words sometimes in training, which is funny.”
With his indirect mention of Erick Mombaerts, the topic of Kisnorbo’s relationship with the mild-mannered Frenchman comes into focus, and ‘PK’ couldn’t speak more highly of his superior.
“It’s surreal how it’s a guy from Moonee Ponds and a guy from Toulouse who’s [twice] the age and we get on like a house on fire,” Kisnorbo laughs, “For me, he’s at least in the top 20 (managers) in the world.
It’s a bold statement from the (comparatively) young coach, but he’s certainly got other iconic mentors to compare to; in 2017, Kisnorbo travelled to Melbourne’s sister club in New York to work with Patrick Vieira, NYCFC’s coach at the time.
When reminiscing on his time shadowing Vieira, it’s clear to see how Kisnorbo has gone about his development as a coach, explaining his process of piecing together lessons from his various mentors over the years to establish his own managerial identity:
“[Vieira] was a great player, a fantastic player, and was a great coach to take little bits [from] that I could maybe take into my career.
“When you become a coach, you get your own style anyway. You can’t copy anyone else. It’s like a bit of a puzzle. You take a bit here, you put it together. You take another bit from someone else and you put it together. And then you put your own spin on everything.
“So I’ve taken bits from even Arrigo Sacchi, who coached in the 90s or 80s for Milan, so just little bits like that and you put them all together and hopefully it comes all in one and things happen on the pitch.”
And whilst things have happened on the pitch in Kisnorbo’s short managerial career, the 38-year-old still has many years shouting in ‘PK language’ from the touchline ahead of him.