Brisbane Roar's enforcer Erik Paartalu has revealed the driving force behind his side's feat of winning back-to-back A-League championships.
”We love it when people hate us,” Paartalu warned in his last week of leave before the start of pre-season on Monday.
Brisbane scored a late 2-1 win over Perth Glory in the grand final in March to become the first team to win two straight championships.
And the powerful midfielder said Brisbane would have to be most fans' favourite for a remarkable three-peat.
”There is no reason we can't make it three straight championships,” Paartalu said.
”Teams are starting to hate us now and we have a few big and spicy clashes early on, particularly the one against Melbourne Victory in round two.
”Fans and critics love nothing more than knock people off the top and go for the underdog.
”Unfortunately this is part of Australia's sporting culture.
”Last year we never stopped hearing people saying how they can break us down and how they can beat us which we felt was a great feather in our cap actually.
”We took that as a great motivation to stay on our toes and keep doing what we were doing.
”It was the driving force that took us all the way to the championship.
”It gave the boys a lot of pleasure to be able to prove so many people wrong.
”And we expect the same thing to happen this season, no doubt they will try to knock us down from our pedestal. But we'll be ready for them.”
Brisbane has been the most outstanding team in the competition for the last two seasons.
It won two championships by winning two amazing grand finals at Suncorp Stadium with late, late goals.
While nobody disputed the validity of its two titles, there were some who suggested that Brisbane was considerably favoured by the home factor in both deciders.
Paartalu does not buy into that argument.
”If you look at our home and away record you will find that our stats are roughly the same,” he explained.
”On a week to week basis, yes, I feel that playing at home makes a difference.
”But in a grand final I think there is more pressure on the home side because there is so much to live up to.
”In the last grand final there was massive expectation on us to repeat what we had done the previous year (versus Central Coast Mariners).
”There was a lot of pressure on us to perform and to be honest we won't have a problem playing in an away grand final for a change because that certainly would relieve the pressure. In fact it would be easier.”
Paartalu said he and his teammates do not feel comfortable making wild predictions, preferring to go about their business and adopt a game-by-game approach.
”We never set ourselves any target in the last two years and we won't be doing it this year either because it is pointless,” he said.
”We are very confident at Brisbane and I can assure you that the boys will be hungry for more success. Motivation will never be a problem.
”In the first year there was a lot of uncertainty because we did not know what to expect from a set of players who had been put together.
”Everyone pulled together in that first season … which was remarkable because we lost only one match.
”Last season we started well, went into a bad patch of five straight defeats and we thought we could not get out of that bad run.
”We were not used to losing games and that knocked our confidence a little bit.
”But in true champion style we recovered and lost only one game on our way to the finals.
”It was a true test of our character.
”You can never have a perfect season but I thought we took our game to a different level in 2011-2012.
”We definitely developed our game plan further but obviously there are still a few areas we need to work on this season.”
Paartalu caused a mini-storm soon after the grand final victory over Perth when he expressed his and some teammates' disappointment at coach Ange Postecoglou's decision to quit Brisbane for Melbourne Victory.
Paartalu said he and some teammates had extended their contracts with Brisbane on the understanding that Postecoglou would be their coach for the coming season.
However the midfielder said it was now time to move on and prove that Brisbane Roar would be as competitive without Postecoglou as it was with him in charge.
”After the disappointment of losing Ange, who had done so much for us and for the club, we pretty much got over it in the next game (in the AFC Champions League) and we started to look towards new coach Rado Vidosic,” he said.
”There is usually a two- or three-year cycle in football coaching so you just have to roll with the punches.
”This is the time for us now to prove what players we are because a lot of people have said we would be nothing without Ange but Rado has been at the club for a long time as well.
”It is now up to us to reward Rado's faith in us.
”He is a good coach and we all know that he is a good coach.
”So it's going to be an exciting year for us.”
Central Coast Mariners midfielder Michael McGlinchey said it is a priority to stop Guangzhou Evergrande from getting fast breaks if his side is to advance beyond the round of 16 in the AFC Champions League.