When Josep Gombau arrived in Adelaide at the beginning of 2013, merely infusing the club with his Spanish football philosophy was not his intention. He wanted to entirely reinvent it.
Prior to Gombau’s A-League coaching debut, Adelaide United were in woeful form.
Having finished the previous season with half the points of title winners Central Coast Mariners, the team narrowly avoided the wooden spoon thanks to the now-disbanded Gold Coast United.
Adelaide’s football culture does not revel in failure, which resulted in the resignation of club legend John Kosmina.
Enter former Barcelona youth coach Gombau, a man whose resumé includes nurturing the likes of Lionel Messi and Arsenal’s Ignasi Miguel. His ‘Tiki Taka’ philosophy, which involves playing the ball back to the defensive line combined with probing attacks, had previously granted Hong Kong side Kitchee SC multiple honours.
However, his tenure in Adelaide started in the worst possible manner, amassing only one victory from nine games. Pressure was again mounting, culminating in a bizarre press conference where Gombau clashed with local journalists.
However, questions ended there. Beginning in Round 10, a spontaneous club resurgence meant United would enter a seven game unbeaten streak, and would not lose at home for the remainder of the season. Gombau’s credibility was restored, and despite a disappointing conclusion to the season, fans were satisfied. United management discerned potential success, and swiftly signed the coach until 2017.
The Spaniard’s increasing popularity all over Australia was most evidenced by his public appointment to coach of the A-League All Stars for a Juventus friendly, garnering almost double the votes of any other coach. The patchwork team displayed incredible composure during the game, narrowly robbed of an upset through two late Juventus goals.
United’s pre-season performance also amassed attention, with signings ranging from Melbourne Victory’s James Jeggo, to Pablo Sanchez of Spanish second-tier side CD Lugo.
Equally impressive was the signing of former Barcelona player Guillermo Amor to technical director, again reinforcing Gombau’s strong stance on Tiki Taka football. The club has enjoyed success in the pre-season, only losing to La Liga side Malaga.
While still poised for success in the FFA Cup (at the time of writing), fans may yet have greater silverware to anticipate. Gombau has always asserted the club would win the title in his second year of office.
However, the title is not a given. Injured players Fabio Ferreira and Cassio mean Gombau has entrusted a younger squad to complete the job. Players Awer Mabil, Bruce Kamau, and Nathan Konstandopoulos have exemplified great speed and agility, though questions remain about the limited seniority of the club.
Other A-League teams also are also showing title promise, such as Brisbane Roar’s dominant football and guest appearances by David Villa in Melbourne City, not to mention the transfer of the title holder’s prize striker Besart Berisha to rivals Melbourne Victory.
What do you think? Will the 10th A-League season complete Gombau’s rise in Australia, or will an influx of quality players to competing sides upset the Adelaide United dream?