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Manton St Tales

Adelaide United's task: rebuild the team and fans' trust

Manton St Tales

Triumph, embarrassment, rock bottom, uncertainty. You could call those the four seasons of Adelaide United’s last 12 months.

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Of course there’s one obvious way that breaks down – it would suggest a return to triumph is next.

But before we look ahead, let’s look back.

The triumph part is obvious enough: a premiership and championship double wrapped up at Adelaide Oval on 1 May 2016.

Embarrassment came three months later in the Reds’ next competitive game: an FFA Cup loss to a semi-professional club: Queensland’s Redlands United.

That was followed by an A-League campaign that saw Adelaide United record just one victory before the end of the calendar year.

Rock bottom was reached on 7 January 2017. The Reds were easily beaten by Melbourne Victory at Hindmarsh and that left them with a hideous record of one win, four draws and nine losses.

To complete the evening, Adelaide United supporters were trolled by Coopers Stadium’s Facebook account and the club’s Chairman Greg Griffin received some interesting feedback from a fan.

An epic win just five days later against Melbourne City offered some hope but it was followed by another poor run – just one point from four games – which ended with a 5-0 home loss to Perth Glory and Guillermo Amor hinting that his time with the Reds was coming to an end.

The team’s form has been reasonably good since then: three wins, three draws and just two losses from the remaining A-League games, and last week’s stunning victory over Jeju United in Korea has lifted the Reds into second place in their Asian Champions League group.

Nevertheless it’s been a period of uncertainty. Uncertainty about who will be playing for Adelaide United next season and uncertainty about who will coach the team.

We even have uncertainty about whether the current players have been paid superannuation owed to them.

Constructing a strong squad will be harder than normal. United used to be a more attractive destination and the people responsible for luring the players who would win last season’s title are gone.

The club now faces a crucial few months. Sure, the Reds won’t play any matches in domestic competition until August (when they’re likely to begin their FFA Cup campaign) and the 2017-18 A-League season doesn’t start until October.

But before then the club has to regain the trust of its supporters. If that doesn’t happen, a drop in membership numbers – something United can’t afford – is inevitable.

To win that trust back, United needs to show fans that it’s assembling a squad that promises to be competitive.

If that isn’t near completion well before the end of winter, expect slow ticket sales and, frankly, another bad season.

Last August, just after Adelaide United lost its FFA Cup match against Redlands, I wrote: “The small number of players on United’s list is the problem that threatens to derail the 2016-17 season and it may be too late, even now, to fix that in a way that gives the club a genuine shot at defending its title.”

That those words were prophetic gives me no joy – they just serve as a reminder that seasons are usually made or broken well before they kick off.

Constructing a strong squad will be harder than normal. United used to be a more attractive destination and the people responsible for luring the players who would win last season’s title are gone.

Several were brought in by former football director and CEO Michael Petrillo. Former coach Josep Gombau gave us the Spanish contingent and those that came through youth teams were guided by Michael Valkanis and Angelo Costanzo. (Just over two years ago, Valkanis was excited about giving a National Youth League debut to a 16-year-old called Riley McGree.)

Fortunately there is something to build on. Experienced players Isaías, Michael Marrone and Taylor Regan are signed for next season (the unfortunate Tarek Elrich is too but he will probably miss the entire campaign after rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament).

And McGree, Jordan O’Doherty and Ben Garuccio lead a list of younger players who are also on board for 2017/18.

But there are around a dozen spots to fill and only a few of them are likely to go to existing players who are coming off contract.

Which means the club needs to get busy or risk another season of poor results with attendances which are more likely to resemble those of recent months (between 6000 and 8000) than the 10,000+ we came to expect.

We like to think of Adelaide United as a successful club. It has only missed the finals four times – and never twice in a row – and only three clubs (Brisbane Roar, Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC) have won more honours in the A-League era.

If 2017/18 is anything like this season, we might be describing its decline.

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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