There is an air of confidence and belief around Adelaide United at present which has not been seen for some time. One might argue not since the heady days of 2008/09 when United competed superbly on two fronts and reached the finals of the A-League and the Asian Champions League, before ultimately falling short in both showpieces.
A time when United inspired optimism, hope, and dared their fans to dream of achieving something historical. In essence, the current Adelaide team inspire in much the same way.
Although tactically and stylistically the sides then and now are quite different, the belief that United are capable of achieving something special has resonated throughout the fan base. There is a mindset of ‘why not us?’ among many long-suffering Reds fans who are yet to see their side hoist the ‘toilet seat’.
Renewed confidence was on display during Sunday’s ‘fans day’ that was well attended and enjoyed by United supporters. Community engagement is high on the priority list for Adelaide’s front office nowadays and these undertakings, allied with great performances, have helped bring back the fun at Coopers Stadium.
The Reds came into the season expected to be the A-League’s version of Barcelona with coach Josep Gombau taking the reins. Despite the poor results and costly mistakes that plagued the early part of the season, United have come through that turbulent spell to emerge as genuine contenders for the Championship.
Central Coast Mariners coach Phil Moss, whose side have now faced the Reds three times this season certainly believes United are the real deal.
“They (Adelaide) are playing a great brand of football … they’re a great side; they really are,” Moss said after Friday’s match which Adelaide won 2-0.
“You would have to say they’re real contenders now.
“They have got experience at the back. They have got a fantastic goalkeeper. And they have got players in the front line who can hurt you in the blink of an eye.”
Gombau has made the necessary adjustments throughout the season, and placed trust in his players where other coaches may not have. This trust has often manifested itself in asking players to play out of position and fill an unnatural role for the benefit of the team.
There were some doubts regarding Tarek Elrich and Osama Malik playing at left back and right back respectively, but they have done terrific jobs for the Reds. Malik’s versatility and composure on the ball has some fans touting him as a candidate for United’s player of the season.
Players have shown a greater grasp of his philosophy and tactics as each training session passes, and this has been transmitted onto the pitch. Despite the blip in Auckland during round 18, United have collected 21 points from their last ten games, more than any side during that period.
Adelaide striker Bruce Djite explained how Gombau stuck to his original approach and how it has paid off for the club.
“The boss had a philosophy and he wasn’t budging or compromising on the way he wanted to play.
“The thing about us is that we have all bought into what the boss wants to do. Even at training we don’t waste any time and maximise every moment.
“He’s got us all pulling in the same direction and understanding exactly the way he wants us to play and why and we are getting the results now that we deserve.”
Gombau has done his best to downplay expectations, as well as insisting his work with the squad is not yet done.
“If at the end of one year we are in the finals, perfect. If we are in the top six, perfect,” He said after the recent 3-0 win over Sydney FC.
“We are a team that are starting in a project…The project when I came here in my mind was two years and this is just the first.”
The fluid attacking movement and passing Adelaide are capable of producing will test any backline in the league, and the Reds have showcased greater defensive nous during their renaissance. Eugene Galekovic has recaptured the form that made him the league’s best keeper in 08/09 and 09/10, with six clean sheets in the last ten encounters.
Four of those six clean sheets have come at home, with all four culminating in wins. This highlights just how crucial United’s home form has been to their resurgence. Collecting 14 points from their last six home games is a good return and Coopers is quickly becoming a very difficult place for opposing sides to visit. The Reds are now in pole position to secure a home final and no team would relish the trip to Adelaide if this dominant home form continues.
The positives keep coming for United with Fabio Ferreira among the goals since his return from injury, and Jeronimo Neumann breaking his hoodoo away from home against Brisbane Roar, and then Sydney FC. The two attackers share the top goal scorer accolade for the Reds with six goals each so far, and Jeronimo leads the team with four assists.
The treatment room is beginning to become a quieter place for United with only Jacob Melling and Cassio with serious injuries. January signings Ryan Griffiths and Michael Marrone are added depth as well as different tactical options for the Reds.
This is the best shape the Adelaide squad has been in all season and it couldn’t be better timing as we approach the final eight rounds of action and head towards the finals series. Momentum can be a huge positive in football and United’s terrific form has given them the impetus to turn this season into an historic one.
All these aspects combine to create the perfect cocktail of optimism and belief that we are currently seeing in Adelaide. The fans certainly believe this could finally be their year, that the Reds could be the champions at long last. And even if they won’t admit it publicly, you can bet the players and coaches do too.