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Manton St Tales

Amor, we hardly knew you...

Manton St Tales

How will we remember Guillermo Amor’s time in Adelaide?

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Will he remain the hero who helped deliver the premiership and championship double in 2016? Or will his status be diminished for many fans if, as is increasingly likely, this season ends up being the Reds’ worst ever?

There is a precedent for going from the summit to the wooden spoon in a single season – Newcastle Jets did it in 2008-9.

But those were different times. The A-League had just eight clubs and a shorter season. Moreover, their championship campaign was so tight that the Jets finished the home-and-away program just eight points ahead of the team that finished third from bottom: Adelaide United. Make no mistake – we’re currently witnessing the sharpest decline in the competition’s history.

For many the explanation for the Reds’ hapless title defence is simple: five of the chaps that played in May’s grand final win are gone and their replacements didn’t work out nearly as well. And you can also throw in some long-term injuries.

Yet I’d be surprised if Amor thinks he’s been on top of his game this season.

Which, by the way, is not a reflection on his comments after Friday night’s humiliating loss to Perth Glory (when he said he didn’t deserve a new contract). The Barça legend has never displayed an inflated ego in his time here and those words wouldn’t be much more surprising if the Reds were placed 6th or 7th.

In trying to understand the current plight of United’s coach – whose exit is now just a question of timing – it’s perhaps instructive to look briefly at his post-playing career and the circumstances surrounding his appointment.

Amor made his final appearances as a senior player in 2003 (coincidentally Adelaide United’s foundation year). After that he spent most of the next decade working with young players and as a football director. And it was in that capacity that former colleague Josep Gombau brought him to Adelaide in mid-2014.

A year later Gombau, still contracted to the end of 2016-17, suddenly left the club “due to family reasons” and Amor became a senior coach for the first time at the age of 47.

And of course that had never been the plan. Indeed, Amor’s role as United’s technical director was initially limited to a 12-month contract.

I’m not suggesting that he was reluctant to jump into the hot seat, just that a person whose goal is to coach/manage a senior team normally takes a more direct path to that role after retiring from playing. Being Guillermo Amor – European Cup winner, five-time La Liga winner and Spanish international – he wouldn’t have been short of opportunities if that was his burning desire.

Exactly nine months after Amor’s role as head coach officially began United won its first championship in front of 50,000 spectators on a glorious Adelaide afternoon.

As the team was winless after eight rounds and bottom of the ladder, the triumph has been described as a fairy tale.

But while Amor deserved a lot of credit, it wasn’t exactly a rags-to-riches story; certainly not when you compare it to the previous season.

Amor’s was a substantial inheritance and we’ve all been a little guilty of undervaluing it

In 2014-15 the Reds finished third with 46 points (last season they won the premier’s plate with 49). And, as I’ve mentioned before, all the grand final heroes, except Stefan Mauk, were at the club when Amor took over as coach. The United machine was already competitive; it just needed a few modifications.

As well as being good enough to push for honours, the playing group was also a tight knit one; Josep Gombau described it as his family.

For Amor this was a substantial inheritance and, mostly because of the Reds’ poor start last season, we’ve all been a little guilty of undervaluing it.

Adelaide United head coach Guillermo Amor talks to media during A-League Grand Final training session at Hindmarsh Stadium in Adelaide. Adelaide United take on Western Sydney Wanderers in the A-League Grand Final at Adelaide Oval on Sunday 1st of May. Saturday, April 30, 2016. (AAP Image/Ben Macmahon) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY

Amor led the Reds to an elusive Grand Final win. Photo: Ben Macmahon / AAP

That playing group was strong enough to keep its focus despite the hurdles it faced: the horror opening rounds, changes to its style of play, lack of depth, and a few off-field tensions.

But a couple of big personalities are gone, certainly a lot of talent too, and the resulting challenge has been overwhelming.

This season the Reds haven’t even been able to string a few reasonable performances together, never mind wins. Their three best efforts, arguably, were the unlucky round 3 loss to Melbourne Victory, the round 8 away draw against Sydney FC, and the win over Melbourne City one month ago.

Yet within a fortnight of those first two matches mentioned, United produced dismal efforts: respectively, a home loss to Central Coast and a four-goal defeat in Brisbane. And since the epic win over the Melbourne Millionaires, which gave us some hope, the Reds have picked up just one point from four games.

Amor’s demeanour normally gives little away – you wouldn’t want to play poker against him. Leaving aside his highly uncharacteristic antics in Perth in November (which resulted in banishment to the stand), he is usually calm and carries a quiet, understated confidence. In media conferences interstate journalists would sometimes get a little frustrated because he didn’t give them much copy. Until recently.

Not surprisingly the change in body language has been subtle. But it’s noticeable.

United head coach Guillermo Amor at media press conference after the round 7 A-League match between Adelaide United and Newcastle Jets at Coopers Stadium on Sunday, Nov. 22, 2015. (AAP Image/David Mariuz) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE

POKER FACE: Amor facing the media. Photo: David Mariuz / AAP

A few days ago Fox Sports’ Simon Hill said that he found it staggering that Amor has escaped having any questions posed of him and noted that United is bottom, was knocked out of the FFA Cup by non A-League opposition, and that three major signings (Sergi Guardiola, James Holland and Henrique) left after a few months.

Hill suggested that one of the reasons Amor had escaped scrutiny was because of his history with Barcelona.

But there are other reasons and one of them – rightly or wrongly – takes us back to the nature of Amor’s appointment. He is the accidental coach and, particularly here in Adelaide, a lot of us will always see him as a nice bloke who did us a massive favour by taking the reins.

And because of that, even the supporters who feel that he has to take his share of the blame for this season will probably find that they’ll mostly remember the good times.

The more I saw Amor – usually in post-match media conferences – the less I felt I knew who he was. United’s coach is composed, polite and intelligent but undoubtedly an enigma. You sense that his head is full of thoughts that he’ll never share with the rest of us.

Amor has been linked to other A-League clubs (particularly Melbourne City) but, unless he’s made an offer he can’t refuse, I doubt that will be his next move.

I hope it isn’t either. And that’s not because I’d fear his return at the helm of a rival; I’d just prefer the story of his time in Australia to end here.

Because that would complete a cracking tale – one of Manton Street’s best: how this decorated but somewhat mysterious Spanish great found himself in Adelaide, was appointed coach by happenstance, took the A-League’s ‘nearly’ club to its first championship, and sailed home less than three years after his arrival.

Paul Marcuccitti is a co-presenter of 5RTI’s Soccer on 531 program which can be heard from 10am on Saturdays.

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