Celebrating their tenth year of existence this A-League season Adelaide United Football Club are finally showing signs of growing up.
Following what was a season of increasing apathy for supporters the club this year has publicly committed to a modern football style, with the arrival of Josep Gombau and his Barcelona-inspired philosophy the catalyst for change around the re-badged Coopers Stadium. Since the Spaniard has arrived in town Adelaide have begun to demonstrate on the pitch the key components made world famous by Gombau’s Catalan home. Consistently fielding a fluid 4-3-3 and instilling a near obsession with possession Gombau has slowly introduced and refined his style over the lengthy preseason and converted the existing United team to his mantra.
This is not Adelaide’s first international coaching experiment, with the Dutch debacle of Rini Coolen’s stint in charge still fresh in the memory of many. However the majority of observers, most notably Craig Foster of SBS, have been vocal in their insistence for a progressive model over another ‘Back to the Future’ inspired appointment like that of John Kosmina at the beginning of last season.
All indications from pre-season thus far suggest Reds fans will be in for something different this year, which, given the fresh exposure of the league to free-to-air audiences each Friday night, is just as well. Having said that dominating the possession stats will not be proof enough for local football fans, and with the Reds facing Perth Glory and then the Melbourne Victory at home in the opening two rounds Gombau will not have long to justify his methods to the Hindmarsh faithful.
Gombau’s revolution also sees Assistant Pau Marti following his boss from Kitchee Sports Club in Hong Kong. Two other Spaniards have landed in South Australia this year, both Sergio Cirio and Isaias Sanchez being familiar with Gombau from their time in Barca’s youth ranks. These two ‘fit the mold’ in so much as comfortable with a possession-based style, with Cirio especially likely to test A-League defences.
Tarek Elrich joins the Reds from West Sydney, hoping to cement more regular playing time than was available to him last season. Elrich is not only an A-League veteran but also offers Gombau an alternative to young Daniel Bowles at right-back, United’s most troublesome position since the retirement of Club Legend Richie Alagich back in 2008.
Arriving at Coopers Stadium late in pre-season were Michael Zullo and Steven Lustica, both recruited from European clubs after failing to secure regular football over there. Many fans will remember Zullo from his Brisbane Roar days, and his early appearances in the Reds shirt have shown his direct dribbling and raw pace from the left to be an exciting ingredient in Gombau’s recipe for entertaining football. Lustica, despite stints at Gold Coast United and Brisbane, is more of an unknown quantity, and has been quoted stating the new philosophy of United to be a key drawcard for the 22 year old.
It won’t take long for Adelaide fans to become familiar with these new faces, as the Reds are suffering from a number of injuries already this year. Cassio, Jeronimo and Bruce Djite are all likely to miss Round One as a result of training mishaps, and Head Coach Gombau has talked at length to local media of the substandard training facilities available to him.
Off the pitch recent developments with NPL side Enfield City perhaps indicate Adelaide are taking the development model of Barca through to a grassroots level, with a relationship similar to the existing setup at Central Coast mooted by the Reds.
Ultimately though it will be first team performances and the A-League table that will be of most concern to United fans and Pep Gombau will be well aware that his possession football is less sacred down under than in his native Spain.