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Mr Football's coming home: The man with the plan to make Adelaide united

Soccer

Oversight of Adelaide United’s off-field rejuvenation has been handed to Adelaide businessman Ian Smith, who will recruit an advisory board he says will help “professionalise” the A-League club’s operations.

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The corporate strategist, lobbyist and former Liberal advisor was this week named as the man to put together – and likely helm – the board, which he says would comprise around seven to nine men and women with “senior business credentials”.

Smith told InDaily the club “should be thankful” to prominent businessman Rob Gerard, who sold his share of the club to a group of predominantly European investors last month “for what he did coming in” and bankrolling the A-League venture eight years ago.

“But I think what’s required is now to professionalise the operations,” he said.

“I think it’s not about looking back – it’s about looking forward.”

Smith first joined the club’s board in 2013 to advise in government relations and corporate development but resigned less than two years later after increasing differences with former chairman Greg Griffin.

Asked today if he had a comment on Smith’s re-appointment, Griffin told InDaily: “Not at all.”

Smith (centre) with then business partners Nick Bolkus and Alexander Downer.

The club’s new chairman Piet van der Pol – who heads a consortium which bought Adelaide United’s A-League licence last month – is understood to have a close relationship with Smith. The two men were seen together at the Reds’ last home match against Wellington Phoenix. Smith was also an official guest at Adelaide United’s elimination final against Melbourne Victory on Sunday night.

“Given the owners are obviously coming in from overseas, while they have a deep appreciation of the game and how to run a football club it’s important we put together a group of people that ensure we work with the community in its broadest sense,” Smith said.

“I play over-35s football [so] I’m no expert – but I do understand how networks and businesses can come together to aid a football club.”

He said he would scour “widely” for board members, saying: “I think there’s the opportunity to look at Adelaide United fans in the corporate world, maybe living interstate… we’re not going to just do our work from Adelaide.”

He said he wanted to “identify who’s out there… to bring in a group of people who can help take Adelaide United forward”, and would be using the local AFL sides as a blueprint.

“I look at how impressive the Crows and Port are… I’m not a big fan of AFL, but I’m a big fan of how some of these people really do get involved and run their clubs,” he said.

“I want to have a very collaborative yet visionary approach to what we do… there’s some really good things we can do, but we can only do it through that sense of collaboration.”

That includes collaboration with United’s most vocal supporters, with Smith open to the prospect of liaising with the Red Army fan base.

He is also well known to several current and former Adelaide United players.

In 2014 he established Barefoot To Boots, an NGO that supports refugees in Africa and the Middle East, with Reds’ star Awer Mabil (currently at Paços de Ferreira in Portugal) and Mabil’s brother Awer Bul.

The organisation – which provides resources as well as initiatives in health, education and gender equality – visits Kenya’s Kakuma Refugee Camp (where Mabil was born) at least once a year. Melbourne City’s Osama Malik – another former Red – has also travelled to Kakuma with Smith.

Smith’s new role was announced at Adelaide United’s 2017-18 season awards night this week.

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