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Manton St Tales

Adelaide United looks healthy but league-wide issues are concerning

Manton St Tales

Adelaide United’s squad for next season should be strong but, as Spiro Karanikos-Mimis writes, there is a lot to be worried about in Australian football as the A-League heads towards an uncertain new season.

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Cristiano Ronaldo, the world’s best player, posted the following on his Instagram back in August after Juventus was eliminated from the Champions League by Lyon:

The 2019/20 season is over for us, much later than usual but yet sooner than we expected. Now it’s time for reflection, time to analyse the ups and downs because critical thinking is the only way to improve.

It’s hard not to have similar feelings of emptiness after Adelaide United’s failure to make the A-League finals.

Before the re-start, I wrote about how I felt very little emotion about the A-League resumption. But I found myself engrossed once again, especially as United made its push for finals. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be.

The season looked promising at the beginning: another FFA Cup in the trophy cabinet, good early season form and the emergence of young talent. It also ended well – five games without losing in the bubble. But sandwiched in the middle were two four-game losing streaks and in the end, that cost the Reds.

United should have played finals but lost crucial points against teams it shouldn’t have. After Christmas, the hapless Central Coast Mariners only beat two teams: Melbourne Victory twice and Adelaide once. United also lost very winnable home games against Wellington, Western Sydney, Western United and Newcastle.

That was Adelaide’s season in a nutshell – very good in parts, very poor in others. Still, United is ahead of the game for next season.

Carl Veart being given the reins full-time made perfect sense. He’s worked very closely with young footballers at Football SA and seems to have galvanised the current squad. His systems and tactics suited the Reds, especially the pre-COVID often-maligned Kristian Opseth who excelled under Veart. Lastly, and very importantly, he’s considered by many fans as a club legend.

Adelaide blooded many youngsters this season and will (possibly) only lose a handful of players from the team that finished the season. As exclusively revealed in InDaily, Taras Gomulka has left for Melbourne City. (We’ll discuss the machinations of the Gomulka decision a little later on). George Blackwood has joined Harry Kewell’s Oldham Athletic.

Michael Jakobsen and Opseth are currently without a contract for next season but both players are wanted by United. Much will depend on the squad rules for next season. Opseth is still in town. He was spotted watching his partner turn out for the Adelaide Comets in the Women’s National Premier League a few weeks ago. Rumours circulate about both Riley McGree and Paul Izzo are seeking moves overseas. Even if the above four depart, Adelaide’s turnover will be relatively low compared to most years.

Adelaide’s squad is in a very healthy state. Izzo, Dakota Ochsenham and Ethan Cox (scholarship) are the contracted goalkeepers. In defence, Adelaide has Yared Abetew, Jordan Elsey, Michael Jakobsen (contract renewal pending), Michael Marrone, Ryan Strain and Ryan Kitto. The midfielders are Lachlan Brook, Louie D’Arrigo, Ben Halloran, Nathan Konstandopoulos, Stefan Mauk and Riley McGree, while up front there is Nikola Mileusnic, Pacifique Niyongabire, Opseth (contract renewal pending), Al Hassan Toure, Mohamed Toure (scholarship), James Troisi and Kusini Yengi.

That means Adelaide has 18 senior players locked in, two players out of contract and two on scholarship deals.

If the league and player’s union decide to keep the status quo for squad structure for next season, that means Adelaide can only sign five players this off-season to senior deals – and two of those may just go to Jakobsen and Opseth. Adelaide was on the end of stinging criticism from the public for allowing Gomulka to walk to Melbourne City.

Looking at the above and with so much uncertainty about squad composition next season, it stands to reason that Adelaide’s initial offer to Gomulka was a scholarship contract (considering A-League clubs can have up to nine players on scholarship deals and Gomulka himself had only played five games). In the end, it’s understood Adelaide did up its offer to Gomulka. A senior contract was on the table. But he left.

Furthermore, some Adelaide United players even went as far as telling Taras that moving to Melbourne City wasn’t the panacea for young players wanting to get overseas. The allure of Melbourne City as a feeder path to the City Group’s global network is a myth in Australia.

Many have signed for Melbourne City in the hope of making it big overseas. City remains a “buying club” in Australia and very few have made it out of there with a European contract at hand.In fact, you can strongly argue, Aaron Mooy is the only successful case study so far.

Taras’ decision is therefore an interesting one, especially since City has a wealth of talent in the middle of the park. Even with Josh Brillante leaving to join Tony Popovic in Greece, they still have Conor Metcalfe, Adrián Luna, Rostyn Griffiths, Florin Berenguer and the newly acquired Aiden O’Neill in their ranks. It’s hard to see how Gomulka fits into that midfield regularly. He has signed for three years but it’s likely that he would have seen more immediate first team football by staying with United, something which was strongly emphasised to him.

Last year, Bruce Djite was at pains to explain that the Reds would not rush a deal for the sake of it. With a near-full roster already, they will take their time and do their research and will probably be looking to recruit the “right” players next season to supplement a very good squad.

Adelaide does need a left-back and a central defender. Djite is also likely to utilise scholarships as well. United has some very good young players to pick from, including Musa Toure, the younger brother of Al Hassan and Mohammed, and by all reports the most talented of the three. The other possibilities are Noah Smith (who debuted this season) and Jackson Walls who was part of the hub at the end of last season.

Unfortunately, we know very little about how next season looks. Best laid plans may be in tatters if the league and union can’t sort out their impasse.

There is a lot to be worried about in Australian football. The abovementioned tussle is number one on the list that FFA must try and fix. The other issue, of course, is the broadcast rights and Foxtel’s obvious dislike for the A-League.

Foxtel’s funding cut has cost people their jobs. With the FFA losing so much money from its re-negotiated TV deal, they’ve had to find ways to balance the books. One of these ways was taking money away from local federations. The local federations have had to make cuts and that includes showing good, hard-working people the door.

This will be one interesting off-season.

One more thing…

It was recently announced that Adelaide United’s W-League keeper Sarah Willacy was not re-signing with the Reds. There have been rumours that Willacy would look to join the ever-expanding number of Australian women playing in Europe once her WNPL commitments finished.

InDaily can reveal that Willacy will in fact head to Victoria to play for Melbourne City.

And finally – talking about Adelaide United’s W-League team – the Reds recently played a friendly against WNPL side MetroUnited. In that team were Matilda Emily Condon (who’s just re-signed), former Red Rachel Quigley and Meleri Mullan who all represent Salisbury Inter locally. Also fronting up for the Reds were Anna Pritchard, Lara Kirkby and Emily Hodgson from West Adelaide.

An interested onlooker was Salisbury Inter’s Chile international Maria Jose Rojas Pino. “Cote”, as she is known, has scored 24 goals in 14 league games for Salisbury Inter this season and would be a fantastic signing.

Lastly, Adelaide recently tweeted photos from a W-League training session. Keen-eyed pundits noticed another new face in the crowd – Adelaide City’s super-talented Japanese midfielder Yuka Sasaki.

Keen followers of the WNPL have long believed that Yuka and her sister Nanako would be excellent in the W-League. The issue was their nationality. With COVID causing havoc, they may finally have their chance.

The sisters, who rocked up at Adelaide City’s training a few years ago and asked for a game, have been a fundamental part of that juggernaut.

They are quality, and the W-League will be better for having them.

Adelaide United W-League Squad:

Charlotte Grant (Future Matildas program)

Emily Condon (Salisbury Inter)

Isabel Hodgson (Adelaide City)

Dylan Holmes (Adelaide City)

Chelsie Dawber (Adelaide City)

Matilda McNamara (Adelaide City)

Emily Hodgson (West Adelaide)

Laura Johns (West Adelaide)
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