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Adelaide United's "mystery" owner and his not-so-secret thoughts

Manton St Tales

Who is Adelaide United chairman Piet van der Pol? As Spiro Karanikos-Mimis reports, the Reds boss has opened up to fans about his role at the club, its ownership, the future of Hindmarsh stadium and a range of other football issues.

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Adelaide United hosted a member’s forum at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre in July. It was a well-attended and robust discussion with key figures at the club.

Club owner Piet van der Pol spoke about many matters and provided some interesting insights into his thinking and future direction for the Reds.

It was the first chance I’ve had to meet van der Pol in person: he struck me as a genuine man who loves football.

Below are some of the comments he made at the forum which included addressing questions about the club’s ownership and the departure of Marco Kurz.

On Adelaide United’s owners

I am the chairman and also the ‘mystery’ owner of the club all in one.

I do have some partners but [they] are investors rather than owners. They are not people that come here or shouting that we have to change the left back or we have to fire the coach… these people put their money on the table and without that money that we put in, this club would’ve had a lot of problems.

They are people I have known a long time and became involved with me but don’t want to be involved operationally and are happy to support the club and are happy to put money in. They are people who don’t have egos, who don’t want to be in the newspaper and are helping us to try and achieve what we are trying to build here.

There’s no secret here – there’s no drug dealers, no human traffickers, no anything else. [They are] normal business people who like football.

On Qingdao Red Lions

I have the same function for a club in China and that is even more difficult than running a club here in Australia.

We thought there are opportunities to connect China to the rest of the world. Every big club in Europe is trying to get a connection into China. We did it the other way around. We have a club in China and we want to connect the club in China to other places. We thought by connecting several clubs it can help develop football in China but also football elsewhere.

Bringing back former players in coaching roles

A football club is based on history and tradition. In Australia the clubs are relatively young of course, but… I always say we should first look in our backyard first before we start looking across the road.

Of course, it’s not [just] about bringing former players back, it’s about bringing top people back who can help the club grow and help the club develop in the right direction.

First you look at the people who love the club and know the club. That is the obvious first step for me.

On appointing Bruce Djite

I think we first met five years ago – something like that.

Bruce was still a player and I spent an hour having coffee with Bruce. And after that I thought if I’m ever involved in a football club in Australia I need to get Bruce on board. I’ve never told him this but my second thought was: if he hasn’t become Prime Minister in the meantime.

Bruce as a player was really special. His way of thinking, his professionalism – on and off the pitch.

He has a huge network in football; he knows every player in Australia.

He’s played in Turkey, he’s played in China, he knows world football.

He’s an excellent communicator and I couldn’t be happier with anyone than Bruce.

The decision not to re-appoint Marco Kurz

Marco was the coach when I became the chairman of the club. I’ve had over one year to see him work for the club and see him work for the team.

At some point, he asked when we would evaluate and we set a moment for that. We said we would do that end of February, beginning of March, and that’s what we did.

I have my vision of where the club should be heading and that also depends on where football in Australia should be heading.

I think the mentality of the Australian players is much better [than players in Europe]. They are much more eager to do more and improve themselves, whereas European players will say – it’s too difficult, I will go to another club.

Everything is available here [in Australia] but one important thing that is missing here is good youth development of players because most A-League clubs don’t have a full-sized academy.

Young players get on board with Adelaide United at the age of 16 – or later sometimes. These young talents miss so many training hours by professional coaches and by top coaches – which is completely normal in Europe – and what these young players don’t learn between [the ages of] six and 16 is huge.

There’s plenty of talent, there’s plenty of fantastic clubs… but quality training [and] developing the best talents – that doesn’t exist enough.

Many players go overseas and then don’t make it and come back. They have a tendency to go to a level that is too high for them.

The difference between development here and in Europe is huge.

So for me, what is key for football in Australia is developing young players. We need to focus on teaching young players football. This means, again, that if we are looking for a player, we first look at what we already have.

So, I’m looking at a coaching staff that is used to working this way, used to looking at youth to go scouting everywhere. Adelaide United needed a coaching staff who is, first of all, improving players and making players better… and our coach from last year was not that type of coach.

On Isaias’ departure

Isa had something in his contract that if [a certain amount] is offered, he can go. The contract was done before I became chairman here, so I wasn’t aware of all the details.

Isa rang me one day and said: “I would like to talk to you.” He came to my house, we had a chat. He said: “Look, I have received an offer from the Middle East.” We had actually started talking about extending his contract and maybe having another role in the future. He said: “This is so much money for my family, for my children, that I want to ask you – can I leave?”

I said that if anyone deserves an opportunity like this, it would be you. If whatever the club offer is reasonable… [Adelaide United] will not stand in your way because we need to allow you to have this opportunity.

This is the reality of football.

Upgrading Hindmarsh/new stadium debate

I love [Hindmarsh Stadium]. For me, the fact everyone is close to the pitch, the atmosphere there is fantastic. That’s what a football stadium should be like.

My first day in town, I had two people contacting me. One was Sam Ciccarello, the chairman of the FFSA, the other one was Anthony Kirchner of Adelaide Venue Management. The club had had a disturbed relationship with both key organisations.

I saw a plan that was probably already a couple of years old about covering the three stands, increasing the capacity slightly to 20 or 22 ,000. It looked fantastic. I was going through it and then I saw the bottom line – $150 million. $150 million for three roofs and a couple of thousand seats extra. Nothing else. No dressing rooms, no facilities.

And I thought – five per cent interest, $7.5 million a year – we cannot pay that. That can never be afforded by [an Australian] football club.

It’s completely unaffordable for the club and for AVM.

Spiro Karanikos-Mimis is InDaily’s soccer columnist.

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