Adelaide and the season that was

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Bowing out with a 4-1 defeat to Sydney FC in the A-League semi-finals was obviously not how Adelaide staff, players or fans wanted their 2014/15 season to end. Like so many things in life, the conclusion of something often plays the largest part in our recollection of that period. Whether it’s a relationship or a season of football, the music playing as the credits roll tends to colour our perception. It is therefore important to look beyond the disappointing end to Adelaide’s campaign to truly assess their season.

4-1 is a result that history will not look upon kindly. In a few years’ time there will be few who look at that scoreline and remember that Adelaide dominated possession, struck the woodwork twice and were wasteful throughout. All they will see is a three goal difference between the two teams, and come to the conclusion that the gap in quality between Sydney and Adelaide was equal to that of Melbourne rivals Victory and City, which we all know it wasn’t.

Once again we are brought back to the issue of perception. How can a season in which Adelaide didn’t win the Grand Final be a success?

In their second year under the tutelage of coach Josep Gombau, the Reds improved their league position by three places, picking up eight points more than last season. The much maligned defence improved slightly by conceding four less goals as Gombau deployed a back three regularly. Up front, last season’s most prolific attack maintained their scoring rate by adding two more goals than last time round, although valid questions remain about a lack of efficient finishing.

Adelaide lifted the inaugural FFA Cup with a dominant yet tense 1-0 victory over Perth Glory at Coopers Stadium, having defeated A-League opposition in each round. It continued a proud series of firsts for the club; the first winners of the Premier’s Plate, and the first Australian club to reach the final of the e Asian Champions League (ACL) final.

It has been an ambition of both coach and club to return to Asian competition. Gombau spoke to Football Central in April last year following Adelaide’s finals defeat to Central Coast, and stressed the importance of bringing the club back to Asia.

“You play in Asia you have another objective, you are travelling, you are playing strong games overseas, it’s a big experience for everyone…I think that this needs to be the objective for next season, to try to be qualified for this (ACL).”

Gombau coached Kitchee to relative success in the AFC Cup, Asia’s version of the Europa League. His side qualified for the round of 16 in 2012, before going one step further by reaching the quarter finals of the 2013 tournament.

Adelaide will have a one game playoff to qualify for the competition proper, and if they overcome that hurdle it will be interesting to see how Gombau approaches the competition. Not one to change his philosophy, can Adelaide add to their proud history in the ACL by playing Gombau’s preferred style?

Another challenge will arise should they win their playoff, notably squad management. An area that has proved exceptionally tricky for every A-League side that has played in the ACL, the extra demands placed on players and coaches often leads to a dip in performances. With Adelaide pressing for the majority of games, will the Reds be able to fight on two fronts or could we see a new defensive approach employed?

Improvement in a number of areas, winning silverware and qualifying for the Asian Champions League isn’t a bad season at all. There is still room for improvement for Gombau’s side, mostly notably in both penalty areas where a lack of composure has often thwarted them. Whether that jump in quality comes from coaching or the signing of experienced players remains to be seen.

The opportunity to return to Asia provides the club with greater exposure and opportunities for much needed commercial revenue, as well as giving them an extra ace to play when recruiting players for next season. Adelaide recently announced the construction of a permanent training base in the suburb of Playford, with plans already drawn up and construction set to begin shortly.

Adelaide have been very busy off the field this season, with no fewer than ten players signing contract extensions, including key players such as Osama Malik, Isaías Sanchez, Sergio Cirio and Marcelo Carrusca. After struggling initially, Pablo Sanchez has adjusted to the league and Gombau’s system and will be around for next season.

A decision has yet to be made on Miguel Palanca, with the 27 year old winger also going through a period of transition upon his arrival in Australia. Taking up a valuable visa spot and having shown only flashes of ability so far, he could well depart the club and allow Gombau to add more firepower to a potent yet inconsistent forward line.

There is also the possibility that Adelaide will look to add bodies at the back given Nigel Boogaard’s impending departure. But with Malik, Michael Marrone and Dylan McGowan established, along with Tarek Elrich’s improved form and the potential emergence of Mark Ochieng and Ben Warland, it is arguably not the Reds’ biggest area of need.

So whilst there is work to do to finish off the final few spots in a well balanced squad, and without doubt the need for some extra shooting practice in preseason, Adelaide United are a club who achieved their aims this season and are moving in the right direction as we look to the next. Continuing that movement is the next challenge for Gombau and his players.

Andrew Cussen

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