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United's chance to atone for early mistakes

Manton St Tales

Adelaide United’s early season decisions have included a few head-scratchers, but tonight’s FFA Cup final is the perfect chance for a backs-to-the-wall act of redemption, writes Spiro Karanikos-Mimis.

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It hasn’t been the best seven days for Adelaide United.

Injuries and a loss supplemented the signing of unknown Chinese winger Yongbin Chen that left many people bemused. The 20-year-old will arrive in Adelaide soon and there will be considerable interest in his capacity to play at a level high enough to silence the naysayers.

United did make it clear they would sign a Chinese player with the aim of developing him and it can’t be said that Van der Pol and others didn’t say it was coming.

Having read Van der Pol’s explanation to The Advertiser’s Rob Greenwood, I can understand the logic and, while some may not agree with using a foreign spot on a project player, I can stomach the intent.

What I can’t stomach is this flawed and somewhat narrow-minded logic that Chen has taken away an opportunity from a young South Australian.

(For the record, Adelaide had eight players who had played in the South Australian NPL in its team against Melbourne City on Sunday – and, if you include Paul Izzo and Michael Marrone, 10 South Australians all up.)

Chen has not taken the spot of a young South Australian. Chen has taken the spot of an experienced fifth foreigner. Nothing more, nothing less.

In fact, by Adelaide signing a young foreigner to develop in their reserves they’re actually providing more opportunities for the local players in the senior team, who will not lose their place in the match-day squad to a fifth foreigner.

Some of the people pushing this flawed argument were NPL players, coaches and administrators.

These are the same people who share the park with or scour the globe looking for international talent to supplement their NPL squads at the expense of their younger players who are forced to change clubs in order to get more first team experience.

We have been trained to think that all foreign A-League players should immediately offer something above and beyond Australian talent.

This is why the previous regime released Pablo Sanchez – the argument being that he should be a starter and not an impact bench player.

But if a club believes its first team squad is talented enough to compete, then what’s wrong with taking a punt on a young foreign talent? And especially one from Adelaide’s sister city Qingdao, which has a metro area population of 5.5 million and is growing at an annual rate of 2.19 per cent.

Qingdao forms part of the Shandong province, which has a total population of around 50 million – twice the population of Australia. United owner Van der Pol is a shrewd operator – his story is fascinating. Perhaps we should stop the critical hyperbole and trust the process for a change.

Where Adelaide does deserve criticism is its decision not to sign more defenders (I was convinced that Adelaide would bring in a Chinese defender).

Bruce Djite said in this video that manager Gertjan Verbeek was offered defenders but believed the club had enough talented youngsters.

I trust Verbeek’s judgement but it’s hard not to think that you can have these youngsters, plus one or two more defenders, and the most deserving of an opportunity will get their chance.

Yared Abetew debuted at right-back on Sunday. He seems like another good prospect but his debut came far too early and it showed.

Unless Verbeek, in preparation for tonight’s FFA Cup final, was playing a game of charades, it seemed logical to start Michael Maria at left-back and move Ryan Kitto, who is ambidextrous, to right-back and play either Al Hassan Toure or Nathan Kostandopoulos in the midfield.

On the weekend, with Jordan Elsey injured and Ryan Strain suspended, Adelaide was exposed defensively.

And against Sydney the backline was tested multiple times.

Whilst the transfer window is closed, Adelaide can still sign free agents.

Any NPL player without a contract is a free agent and there are options like Matthew Špiranović and Zac Anderson to consider.

It might be time for Adelaide’s hierarchy to inform Verbeek that the club will sign another defender – especially if Elsey’s knee injury is a bad as it currently seems.

Another mistake Adelaide made last weekend was not taking a squad of 17 or 18 to Melbourne.

They selected only 15 and when Ben Halloran got a stomach bug and couldn’t even sit on the bench, Adelaide was left with only three substitutes – Lachlan Brook, Toure and Kostandopoulos.

The players who were fit and not taken to Melbourne were Daniel Marguš, Carlo Armiento, Kusini Yengi and Pacifique Niyongabire.

Marguš is currently the third choice goalkeeper and wasn’t required.

Niyongabire is returning from a knock he took against Newcastle in the FFA Cup but didn’t appear in the team’s list of injuries when the squad was distributed on Thursday.

I’m not sure I understand why at two of these boys weren’t taken to Melbourne

Both Armiento (who appears out of favour) and Pacifique are wingers and could’ve provided options for Verbeek when Abetew had to come off at half time with an injury.

Instead, Verbeek brought on Lachlan Brook to play out of position on the right wing.

I know it’s easy to criticise from the relative comfort of my keyboard and I’m not privy to the inner workings at the club but not having more players on the bench was a head-scratcher.

Of course, the reality is that Adelaide can’t make any more than three changes in a league match but perception over reality often hurts the most.

And so the Reds compete in their fourth FFA Cup final tonight against Melbourne City.

Ryan Strain will return to the team but it’s looking unlikely that Elsey, Blackwood and Boland will play. James Troisi is ineligible.

It will be a monumental task for the Reds to overcome their oil-rich opponents.

But, despite fielding such a young team, they did push City on Sunday and arguably won the second-half.

And it’s when Adelaide’s back is against the wall that the fans get behind their team and they get the job done.

United has always been a team of firsts – first goal in the A-League, first Premiers, and first Australian team to play in the Champions League Final – and here’s hoping that they become the first team to win three FFA Cups.

And another thing…

Football South Australia recently held its Celebration of Football where it crowned the NPL and WNPL best-and-fairest.

Ricardo Da Silva and Anna Pritchard were deserving winners of those respected awards.

Attendees seemed perplexed though as to why neither of the winners made the team of the season.

So you know: the best-and-fairest award is voted on by the referees while the team of the season is voted on by the coaches – so that explains how this situation can occur.

Spiro Karanikos-Mimis is InDaily’s soccer columnist.

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