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And with that, another season of the A-League is done and dusted.
It’s been a unique year for Adelaide United. Results have been good and the owners are building towards their ambition for the club.
But it has also been a transitional season for United, as the club’s leaders attempt to shape the culture and atmosphere they want at Hindmarsh.
Josep Gombau once suggested that sacrificing one season in the A-League could benefit a team long-term. He was widely condemned for those comments.
He argued that without relegation in the Australian top tier, a team should be able to focus on system and structure at the expense of wins if it meant more success later on.
Gombau’s point was a valid one, but it is a very hard concept for soccer fans to grasp. This is because we are so used to football being about results. We have no patience. We want instant gratification and often, at the expense of long term stability or success.
In many leagues, the general rule is: excellent results will get you silverware, good results will mean promotion or survival and bad results mean relegation.
That’s what we are used to. As fans of the world game, it goes against everything we are trained to believe if a club embarks on a rebuild that could see a season burnt for the greater good.
Even the hapless Central Coast Mariners tried hard this season to build a team capable of competing for a finals berth. Hindsight is magical, but maybe giving Usain Bolt a contract could have provided a big enough distraction from the absolute trash they played for long parts of the season.
It isn’t that uncommon in other sports. In the NBA – the world’s number one basketball league – teams embark on massive rebuilds. Some last four, five or more seasons.
Take the Philadelphia 76ers who have Australians Ben Simmons and Jonah Bolden on their roster. That franchise and its fans went through years and years of pain to finally reach a point where they are considered contenders.
Why are people hell-bent in finding a smoking gun that clearly doesn’t exist?
So is there really anything wrong with one bad season in order to have three or four great ones? Probably not.
As already mentioned, Adelaide United have gone through a transition year off the park (and often on it – some of the football was this season was dire) and they will be better for it.
The owners have allowed themselves just over 12 months to get in a position to start achieving their goals for the club.
They’ve spent a lot of time fixing things behind the scenes: relationships with fans, the active supporters’ group, the State Government and stadium management were all fractured. These things take time and goodwill to sort out. One of their first actions, for example, was to reduce the cost of season tickets.
Criticism of the new owners has left me dumbfounded. Do supporters have short memories? Have we all forgotten what was happening at United not that long ago?
In case you have, here are a few things to jog your memory:
There were some great times but I just don’t understand how all these controversies have been forgotten so quickly.
Before the new consortium took over I was often privy to some of the happenings behind the scenes from disgruntled employees who couldn’t wait to dish the dirt on their employer. It spoke volumes about the state of the club and how bad things had become.
Over the last 12 months, I have not heard a thing. Zilch. Nada.
If anything, we’ve heard how much better things are and how much the atmosphere and culture has changed.
And that brings us to the new owners. It’s important to dissect people’s ‘concerns’ about them in a logical way.
One of the biggest criticisms thrown at them is that they have not spent money.
It is a ridiculous argument, simply because it’s not accurate.
Foremost, they spent around $10 million (or more) to buy the club. Not exactly pocket change.
Many commentators have continuously claimed, erroneously, that Adelaide United is under-funded.
The A-League has a complicated wage structure.
Each team must have between 20 and 23 senior players and:
A club may also choose to have up to six scholarship players and can also utilise its Y-League players in the A-League.
They must spend at least 90 per cent of the salary cap – known as the cap floor. This season that was $2.756 million.
The ceiling, being the most a club can spend on its roster (excluding wages for two designated players or “marquees”), was $3.063 million.
For argument’s sake, let’s assume that Adelaide spent the cap floor (though they probably spent the ceiling, especially with players like Goodwin and Halloran on the roster).
Baba Diawara’s designated player wage was $400,000 – if not more.
Then there are the four scholarship contracts which are paid at the national minimum wage (but can receive more, which counts towards the salary cap).
This means Adelaide’s wage bill would be at least $3.2 million but more likely $3.56 million. And that does not take into consideration the many exemptions available in the cap, so it is quite plausible that the actual wage bill is closer to $4 million.
In short, the owners are spending more than the salary cap on wages.
And, I can reveal that there has also been a lot of debt clearing by the new consortium after they purchased the license – some expected and some that has caught them by surprise.
Player retention is also very good.
This year’s squad consisted of 26 players (21 senior contracts, one designated player contract and four scholarship contracts).
Fifteen of the senior squad are contracted for next season, namely:
Three of Adelaide’s four scholarship players – Pacifique Niyongabire, Carlo Armiento and Louis D’Arrigo – are also contracted.
There is a possibility that one or more will be upgraded to senior deals but let’s assume that the status quo remains and that the three abovementioned athletes stay on scholarship deals.
Adelaide United has lost Apostolos Stamatelopoulos to Western United. This is disappointing as AP is a fantastic prospect. But it’s worth noting that in its first season, the new A-League team has been allowed to pay above the salary which lets them make more attractive offers to uncontracted players.
Annoyingly, Scott Galloway decided to join Melbourne City. He was a standout this season. He had an oral agreement with Adelaide before a better offer was made by City. Such is the nature of professional sport.
Jordy Thomassen’s loan deal has ended.
Baba Diawara has been released. He simply did not play enough and you can see the logic behind the club wanting to move on. It’s a shame his time in Adelaide was tarnished by injuries because his statistics are good. Baba had 14 score involvements in 1992 minutes in all competitions (A-League, FFA Cup and Asian Champion League) for Adelaide. If you divide the minutes he’s played (1992) by his goal and assist tally (14), his score involvement is once every 143 minutes. Credit needs to be given to Adelaide’s medical staff for even getting him back on the park this season.
As exclusively revealed by InDaily, Isaias has departed for Qatar. As difficult as it is to watch the heart-and-soul of your team leave, it was hard for Adelaide to deny him this opportunity. United would have preferred to have their captain stay but with the potential to earn three or four times his current salary (tax-free), the Reds would have needed to offer him a contract in the vicinity of $1.5 million a year to match what is on offer in Qatar.
This leaves Ken Ilsø, Vince Lia and Kristian Konstandopoulos.
Ilsø, hand-picked by Marco Kurz, was never going to be renewed after the FFA provisionally suspended him under its National Anti-Doping Policy. Fans were hopeful the Dane would provide Adelaide with a much-needed goal-scorer. While there were small glimpses of the player he once was, it was obvious he was well past his best.
Lia is seen as a leader at the club and someone who provides the culture the Reds are seeking. No-one would begrudge him another season in Adelaide and it would be great if he stayed but for the sake of this article, let’s assume he doesn’t.
Konstadopoulos’ two-year scholarship deal is ending. He’s been good for the Adelaide United NPL team and may get another deal if he continues to perform well.
If no other players ask for a release or are sold, then the new manager will have between five and eight senior spots to fill (plus potentially another two or three scholarship contracts depending on what the decision is on Kristian Konstandopoulos).
This is the complete opposite of a club like Brisbane Roar who have already released 14 players, whilst Wellington has seven contracted players for next season. I know which position I prefer my team to be in.
Three of Adelaide’s senior spots are available for foreign players and expect Adelaide to use its connections in China to fill one of those.
On that point, it’s about time the A-League clubs agreed to change the foreigner rules to incorporate the provision of signing an Asian player (the ‘4+1’ rule). Putting aside the political goodwill, it would show the Asian Football Confederation there are lots of talented players in Asia, playing outside some of the bigger leagues, who would be magnificent in the A-League.
For example, 22-year old Nguyen Quang Hai, touted as a once-in-a-generation player in Vietnam, is someone that could (and should) be enticed to the A-League.
Some would have you believe that if a player is not from a big Asian footballing country, then they’re a waste of time. But this shows a complete lack of understanding of football in Asia. This attitude is why so many Asian countries take great delight when Australian clubs or the Socceroos fail on the continent. Our smugness belittles the strong soccer culture in many Asian countries.
The new coach – Dutchman Gertjan Verbeek – does need to make sure he gets the international signings correct. It’s one of the most important jobs an A-League coach will encounter.
Verbeek would be acutely aware of the talent available in Asia having coached Hiroshi Kiyotake and Makoto Hasebe at Nurnberg and Yusuke Tasaka at VFL Bochum.
If United recruit smartly, they already have the nucleus of a very good team that will be supplemented with quality international players. Someone like Charlie Mulgrew would fit nicely. The Scotland international can play anywhere in the middle of defence or midfield and has a deadly left foot. He’s contracted for one more year but. like Adam Le Fondre, could be persuaded to join if the offer was right. His age could be the biggest sticking point and I use Mulgrew as an example of the type of player Adelaide could recruit rather than saying that he should be the player they recruit. It is likely Adelaide will want to recruit foreigners in the mould of Isaias and Carrusca – players who hang around for a while and create a legacy.
Verbeek’s appointment is another indication of how the owners want to operate and he will likely be joined by an Australian assistant along with Eugene Galekovic as goalkeeping coach.
Verbeek comes to Adelaide with a wealth of knowledge from his time in Holland and Germany but gauging by the reaction of some fans, you’d think Adelaide plucked him out of a C-Grade amateur team.
People are complaining his career is littered with sackings. This is generally the rule in Europe, rather than the exception. Jose Mourinho has coached seven teams and is looking for his eighth – does that make him a bad coach? Both Kurz and Verbeek have been sacked five times by clubs – and that doesn’t include Kurz’s non-renewal at Adelaide.
Here is an example of what some of the more poorly-informed fans are saying:
We have to give Verbeek the opportunity to succeed.
The decision to let Marco Kurz go from his contract has been criticised by fans but it was the right one. I’ll be the first to confess I was not enamoured with the German.
As I alluded to in my first opinion piece, there have been events which really forced United’s hand. This was reiterated when Taylor Regan tweeted:
There have been snippets to suggest why this decision was made and if you think about it for a moment, it’s probably more obvious than you realise.
Kurz did not fit the culture the owners want at Adelaide, and the recent fiasco in Perth highlights this.
The German was physically restrained by a player after deciding to chase a Fox Sports camera operator away from the team huddle. Lots of fans praised his passion but it was highly embarrassing for Adelaide. What did he think the camera operator was doing – leaking information to Perth?
There was also the outburst after the penalty shoot-out against the Glory that is currently being investigated by the FFA, including the allegation that one of the coaching team yelled out “I’ll kill you” to either the security guards or officials.
This all stemmed from a lack of a coin toss to decide which end the shout-out would occur at. For what it is worth, the FFA had provided those details to both clubs.
A-League circles are small and it comes as no surprise to me that Kurz has not managed to snare the Central Coast, Brisbane or Wellington job. He’s being linked to the Melbourne Victory gig, but I’m not convinced that’s happening.
Finally, the other question people are asking is: who are the owners?
It’s human nature to want to know and that desire is dogging fans and casual observers of Adelaide United. Melbourne Victory has 60 odd owners and not all of them are publicly known.
Why are people hell-bent in finding a smoking gun that clearly doesn’t exist? Why must their anonymity be associated with sinister motives? What decisions have the new owners made that have people so annoyed?
Since they took over, they have funded the signing of excellent players (Goodwin, Halloran, Boland, Jakobsen and Galloway) and only two of the current crop have decided to continue elsewhere. Most new ownership groups sack coaches and their staff but they honoured Kurz’s deal. Are these actions what you would expect from owners who do not care about their club?
If you want to see football ownership gone wrong, search for Venkys and Blackburn Rovers. Try not to go too far down that rabbit hole. That’s a prime example of how the wrong people in charge can devastate a proud and wonderful club.
We have not seen anything remotely close to that from the new owners. Piet Van der Pol is a football person, who’s been around the game long enough to fully understand how it works.
Van der Pol, as chairman, is accountable. He has been open about the vision and plan for the Reds multiple times. He sat down with a journalist and spoke candidly about what the owners want to achieve here.
There have been some criticisms of the Reds this year that have been valid. The botched signing of Jon Aurtenetxe from Adelaide Comets is one, though that played out very differently to what was publicised.
Firstly, it was incorrectly reported that United was not aware that competition rules did not permit them to sign Aurtenetxe because he played for an NPL club. This accusation was wrong. The rules do permit transfers between NPL and A-League clubs and Adelaide knew this. The rules say there are no transfers between A-League clubs. But this fallacy caught fire and many ran with it.
Secondly, it was also incorrectly reported (and still is) that the fee for the transfer was $15,000. This number was provided by Aurtenetxe’s agent but Adelaide was willing to negotiate with the Comets to compensate them for their hard work securing the Spaniard.
Comets were happy to get around the table to discuss a deal – they have always been a club willing to allow their players to take the next step in their career, even for someone like Aurtenetxe who had just arrived. Unfortunately, Aurtenetxe’s representatives did their client no favours with their conduct and while a fee was agreed – around $38,000 – the deal collapsed.
New journeys are peppered with challenges. There will always be some issues. But as we begin long break before next season, there is finally a positive outlook for Adelaide. The future is bright. I’m excited. You should be too.
Spiro Karanikos-Mimis is InDaily’s soccer columnist.
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