Adelaide United’s decline is a problem for the whole of the A-League

Gary Andrews Roar Rookie

By , Gary Andrews is a Roar Rookie

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    Just as Leicester City are now looking over their shoulders as relegation looms, Adelaide United are making space for a wooden spoon to sit next to their 2016 Championship in the trophy cabinet.

    Outplayed, out-muscled and severely out of sorts, the Reds’ 5-0 thrashing at home to Perth Glory must surely rank as one of the lowest points in recent years, less than 12-months after their astonishing run from basement boys to Australian champions.

    Yet while Adelaide’s decline has been dramatic, the signs were there from the minute after the trophy was hoisted.

    Like other teams before them, the Reds have fallen victim to a very A-League problem: post-season squad gutting.

    The decimation of a successful team is not uncommon, not in Australia, nor overseas, where it’s especially the case in Brazil and the Netherlands. Celebration hangovers have barely cleared before foreign teams swoop for title winning stars.

    In a ten team division in a relatively young league, it’s particularly pronounced.

    Adelaide would have expected a number of their side to depart, but what was notable was the nature of the players to depart.

    Craig Goodwin, often at the heart of all that was good about the Reds play, departed for Sparta Rotterdam just four days after winning the title. Club legend Bruce Djite soon followed for another spell away from his spiritual home, while veteran Pablo Sanchez reached the end of the road.

    Yet some of the younger talents that coach Guillermo Amor would have hoped to blood also departed. Amor surely wasn’t planning to dispense of Stefan Mauk or Bruce Kamau, while throw in the earlier departure of James Jeggo meant the Reds lost the players who could step up and make a case for becoming the heartbeat of the side.

    Thirteen new signings and 12 losses tell their own story. Rebuilding does not appear to be Amor’s forte and new recruits are vastly inferior to the title winning side.

    This is not a uniquely Adelaide problem. The Western Sydney Wanderers embarked on such an extreme level of rebuilding almost every summer that it’s a wonder they aren’t sponsored by Grand Designs Australia. The Central Coast Mariners have never really recovered from the squad gutting after Graham Arnold departed, and many would have loved to have seen the 2013-14 Brisbane Roar vintage challenge in the Champions League. The Newcastle Jets have haven’t approached the heights they reached since winning the grand final in 2008.

    Unsurprisingly, it is the biggest clubs with the deepest pockets who are less affected, with Sydney and Melbourne Victory able to either hold onto their bigger stars or have the cash to spend on adequate replacements.

    And cash is a big issue. As former Red Bruce Djite told the Off-Field podcast: “In the four months that I’ve been there [Suwon FC] I saved more money that I have in my last five years in Australia. You can’t compare. The A-League is one of the most underpaid leagues in terms of what you earn compared to the quality of football you produce.”

    Footballers, like anyone else, will want to earn as much as they can, especially with short careers. Who can blame the likes of Djite for taking a bigger paycheck over a crack at a title defence or Champions League campaign.

    Does this mean the A-League’s salary cap should be scrapped? Arguably not currently, as it would as likely hurt Adelaide further. But if Australia wants to hold onto its stars and for fans to gain any kind of empathy with their playing roster, there is an argument for reform.

    Poor pay and big clubs snatching young starlets are not the only reasons for Adelaide’s decline and Amor must take some responsibility for the lack of fight displayed on the field.

    But ultimately having your league’s best clubs pushed into a season of flux and decline doesn’t help a ten team competition battling for spectators, doesn’t help Australia’s standing in Asia, and doesn’t make for a happy Hindmarsh Stadium.

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