A lack of cover across Adelaide United’s squad, coupled with a number of other absences likely in the coming weeks, will hopefully offer some young Reds an opportunity to cement their A-League credentials.
So far this season coach Josep Gombau has been relatively fortunate in covering for injuries, with long-term absentee fullbacks Cassio and Daniel Bowles replaced with Michael Zullo and Tarek Elrich respectively, and Osama Malik now preferred over the often suspended Nigel Boogaard at the back.
Thus the Reds have fielded one of the most consistent elevens in the A-League this term, allowing a solid platform from which to adapt to a new coaching and footballing style which has seen an upturn in results over the past month. However these circumstances have offered few chances to some fresh faces, with the raw promise of Awer Mabil and Jake Barker-Daish seen more often from the substitutes bench.
Elsewhere across the league this season teenagers have flourished when thrown in the deep end, with squads stretched and coaches forced to have faith in their own home-grown recruits. The extreme example is that of Kwame Yeboah at Brisbane Roar, who impressed enough from his goal-scoring cameos to secure a move to the Bundesliga with Borussia Mochengladbach in the January transfer window.
More modestly at full-back a Corey Brown, also of the Roar, Storm Roux (Central Coast) and Matthew Davies at Perth Glory have all received significant playing time, and plaudits, so far this season. On the other hand the afore-mentioned Mabil has been the most prominent of Adelaide’s next generation and he is yet to start an A-League fixture this season.
Awer’s excellent technique and awareness, coupled with the infectious enthusiasm he brings to the football field, offer Adelaide a direct attacking threat that provides Gombau some variation in attack, and at times his impact off the bench has changed the atmosphere of the game.
While he is yet to translate this into consistent and clinical outcomes in the final third the live-wire seen as the Reds’ ‘Balotelli’ requires the pressure-cooker of first-team football to develop, and hopefully this weekend he is given a starting berth against the rampant Roar.
Mabil is not the only Adelaide youngster to have shown potential this season though. Jake Barker-Daish, an attacking midfielder full of confidence and possessing a wicked long-range shot, has already featured in 25 A-League games. Beginning with the Gold Coast in 2011-12 and then moving across to United last year. Jake would be odds-on to feature often in the next few fixtures if not for his call-up to the Australian U-22 side for the competition in Oman. Ryan Kitto, another young winger who debuted earlier this season would be around the squad too if not for him too if not for him joining Barker-Daish on national team duties.
Centre-back Jordan Elsey made his Reds debut in Round Two against the Victory and this week returned from a brief sojourn to Hong Kong in the form of a (very) short-term loan deal at Gombau’s former club Kitchee. Elsey possesses the pace required of defenders in Adelaide’s usual high line and may feature in the matchday squad against Brisbane.
Teen forward Anthony Costa came off the bench last week against Sydney FC after impressing in the National Youth League, while others like Scott Nagel, who impressed in the Reds pre-season outings, and Nathan Kostandopoulos, a midfielder in the traveling party for Brisbane, are outside chances of getting some game time.
As Andy Cussen, Football Central Correspondent for Adelaide United, noted earlier in the week the Reds do not possess much depth in multiple areas of the pitch, even after the signing of journeyman Ryan Griffiths to cover injuries to Fabio Ferreira and Sergio Cirio up front, so it is likely that some of these young lads will feature in the next month or so.
Pep Gombau has often spoken about creating a Barca-lite academy at United, now due to other circumstances he may be forced to blood some youngsters from La Masia down under. The question will be which of the Reds next generation will make their mark on the competition and secure their spot in the side?