Wheels falling off Adelaide wagon

Paul Williams Columnist

By , Paul Williams is a Roar Expert

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    Cast your mind back to just over 12 months ago and the euphoric scenes at the Adelaide Oval when Adelaide United broke their 11-year drought to be crowned champions of Australia.

    Even as a die-hard fan of their fiercest rivals it was hard not to get swept up in the emotion of the day, as Adelaide was overrun by a sea of red, highlighting exactly why the A-League grand final should never be played at a set venue. Hosting a grand final is something unique to the A-League, something the other football codes can’t match.

    It was a day Adelaide fans and people of Adelaide in general will remember for a long time.

    But just over 12 months later the mood in Adelaide has significantly changed and the wheels appear close to coming off.

    After their championship-winning squad was torn apart, their title defence was one of the worst on record and any momentum they had post-Championship has well and truly been halted. The club is now in reverse.

    There is serious anger and frustration among the Reds’ fans, with many claiming they won’t buy memberships or attend matches until things change.

    The handling of the departure of club legend Eugene Galekovic appears to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Having been through this once before when Travis Dodd was forced from the club, United fans had hoped things had changed. The club’s handling of Galekovic’s departure suggests they haven’t.

    While Galekovic insists he harbours no ill-feeling towards the club, the same cannot be said of the fans.

    The subject of the fans ire is outspoken club chairman Greg Griffin. Griffin is a polarising figure, and is developing a reputation for his frequent outbursts about…well, anything and everything.

    His latest outburst has him refusing to release five Adelaide United players – Paul Izzo, Riley McGree, Jordan O’Doherty, Ben Warland and George Blackwood – for Olyroos duty after they were named by U23 coach Josep Gombau, a former Adelaide United coach, for the upcoming AFC U23 Championship Qualifiers to take place in Myanmar later this month.

    Comically, Blackwood, who signed from Sydney FC just recently, hasn’t even been officially announced by the club yet.

    “These players will be better suited remaining in Adelaide and training and learning with their new coach in July than going off to Myanmar,” Griffin told Fairfax yesterday.

    His football manager, Ante Kovacevic, went one step further when talking to News Limited.

    “We always try to get our young players to get pushed into the national team and then we get punished for, let’s be honest, a joke of a tournament. Why are we playing an Olympic (age) team when this isn’t even the Olympics? I don’t see the benefit to anybody,” he said.

    It’s not the first time someone from Adelaide United has taken aim at an AFC tournament. Griffin questioned this year why his club bothered to participate in the AFC Champions League, while also rubbishing the Olyroos possible participation in the Lunar New Year Cup, describing it as a ‘Mickey Mouse competition’.

    Adelaide United 2016 A-League Grand Final Football

    (AAP Image/David Mariuz)

    As Australia endeavours to show it is serious about being a member of the AFC, such outbursts do little to help our reputation in the region.

    And ask any player and they will tell you how much it means to them to represent their country at any level. How will the five Adelaide players feel about being denied the opportunity to gain important international experience and cement a place in the Olyroos squad with Tokyo 2020 on the horizon?

    And what message does that send to players who may be thinking of joining Adelaide United? Would they want to play for a club who is going to obstruct and interfere with potential national team call ups?

    There is a different game being played here though. As the face of the Australian Professional Football Clubs Association (APFCA), Griffin is locked in an ongoing and increasingly heated and hostile battle with FFA regarding the structure of the A-League and the FFA board.

    And that’s ultimately what Griffin’s latest outburst is about; it’s a chance to take another dig at FFA. But while he is focused on winning points in his battle with FFA, Adelaide United is at risk of falling further behind the pack. Nero fiddled as Rome burned, as the saying goes. Just what damage is being done in the process remains to be seen.

    What a difference 12 months can make.

    Paul Williams
    Paul Williams

    Paul Williams is an Adelaide-based football writer. Specialising in Asian football, he writes about the beautiful game for a host of publications including SBS The World Game, FourFourTwo Singapore and Al Jazeera, and is a regular guest on the Daily Football Show. You can follow him on Twitter @PaulWilliams_85.

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