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  • Writer's pictureAntonis Pagonis

A-League Men 2023/24: Which youngsters will emerge for Adelaide United?

After the unexpected departure of Craig Goodwin heading into the 2023/24 A-League Men's season, along with limited investment in their first team, Adelaide United are poised to put their faith in the next generation to step up on the professional stage. Front Page Football takes a closer look at the youngsters the Reds may come to rely on this season.

The next generation of Adelaide United players secured an NPL SA championship in the lead-up to the 2023/24 A-League Men season. (Ken Carter)


Goalkeepers


Adelaide United boasts their greatest depth in the goalkeeping department. Just this April, first-choice goalkeeper and Socceroo Joe Gauci committed to a three-season contract extension, making it difficult to envision anyone displacing him except due to injury. However, if such a situation arises, James Delianov, Gauci's capable backup, will be ready to step in and fill the void.


Following the two 'senior' goalkeepers is depth to spare in their goalkeeping stocks. Tony Vidmar has recently recognised Ethan Cox with Olyroos selection. He is also a pivotal member of Adelaide's NPL squad as captain, making critical interventions throughout the 2023 season and being reliable with the ball at his feet.

Steven Hall, filling in for Cox late in the season during his time on international duty, delivered exceptional performances as the Young Reds clinched the NPL SA championship. Hall previously showcased his capabilities in the A-League Men when Gauci and Delianov were sidelined with injuries. Surprisingly, even fifth-in-line goalkeeper Oscar Page managed to secure NPL minutes this season and represented Australia during a Schoolboys tour of the UK and Ireland, starting in victories over his Celtic and Arsenal counterparts.

Fullbacks


Carl Veart has recognised the shallow depth in Adelaide United's fullback stocks and has addressed them by promoting from within. Ryan Kitto and Javi López are the side's undisputed starting fullbacks, with Harry Van der Saag, a capable right back, returning from injury. But Veart is showing a willingness to use him as a utility in other areas of the pitch.


At left-back, Veart has promoted 17-year-old Olyroo Bailey O'Neil to the first team. The young fullback has displayed remarkable composure during his first full season as the NPL team's starting left-back, appearing physically and technically at ease against experienced opponents at that level.

At right-back, Giuseppe Bovalina is an unconventional wide defender who enjoys scoring as much as he does defending. Bovalina frequently ventures forward with seemingly endless stamina and is characterised by his impressive vertical leap, often allowing him to win headers in the box. Bovalina's promotion can also free up Panashe Madanha to take up the positions he thrives in further up the field.

Centre-backs


Despite finishing third on the ladder in 2022/23, Adelaide United conceded 46 goals, the same number as the 2016/17 campaign, where the Reds ended a single point above cellar-dwellers the Newcastle Jets. Ben Warland, Lachlan Barr, and Nick Ansell will be entrusted in the heart of defence. But two young defenders will be vying for an opportunity to help keep the goals out.


Alex Popovic was undoubtedly a starter when he was introduced to the senior team by Veart at the tail end of the 2021/22 season. However, during his second campaign, the ball-playing centre-back experienced a dip in form and confidence, being relegated to the bench. Nonetheless, Popovic is one of Adelaide United's most promising defensive prospects. As the season progresses, he should have opportunities to regain his place at the heart of the backline.

Kane Vidmar's departure to Western United paved the way for his former NPL centre-back partner, Panagiotis Kikianis, to be promoted to Adelaide's A-League Men's squad through a scholarship deal. Like Vidmar, Kikianis is strong in the air and capable with the ball at his feet. These traits earned him a Young Socceroos call-up in June, where he stepped in to replace the injured Dimitri Valkanis.

Midfielders


With Juande and Louis D'Arrigo leaving Adelaide United, the door is open for many young Reds and new signing Ryan Tunnicliffe to fill their roles. Veart faces the dual challenge of managing his midfielders' game time and determining the most effective way to deploy them.


Jay Barnett has earned high praise from Veart, being described as the "best young number six" in the country. Upon his return from a hamstring injury, Barnett is set to compete with Isaias for that role, and they may even form a partnership in a pivot based on the opposition.


Meanwhile, Jonny Yull is recognised as one of Australia's most talented young box-to-box midfielders, even garnering admiration from English Premier League giants Chelsea at one point. Yull has also demonstrated versatility by playing as an attacking midfielder for the Reds in the A-League Men. Additionally, Luke Duzel, who has received strong backing from the club with a three-year deal, is another option in either role.

Ethan Alagich, who received his first A-League Men start against Melbourne Victory last campaign, has developed into a proficient deep-lying playmaker at an NPL level. However, Veart is willing to deploy him in multiple roles across his midfield. Meanwhile, Fabian Talladira has grown to become Yull's replacement in the NPL. He has previously been selected for the Joeys, where he played as a left wingback at the Asian Cup earlier this year. Veart is likely to have taken note of Brad Maloney's use of the youngster and may need to use him similarly should he intend to grant Talladira an A-League Men debut in the upcoming campaign.

Wingers


Veart's cross-heavy style and the exit of captain and Johnny Warren Medallist Craig Goodwin, along with question marks over Ben Halloran after an uncharacteristically quiet season, mean Adelaide United may be looking to grant the most minutes to youngsters on either side of their attack. While a potential new signing may be coming to fill Goodwin's shoes, the Reds also boast a wealth of young talent eager to compete for increased playing time.


In what is likely to be his final season in Adelaide, Nestor Irankunda will aim to secure regular playing time, a move that can both increase his market value and bolster the Reds' goalscoring efforts. Meanwhile, Bernardo, who missed most of the 2022/23 campaign due to injury, presents a much different option to Irankunda. His return will be valuable for Adelaide United, who have lost their primary goal scorer and provider.

Bovalina's promotion and Van der Saag's return will also see Panashe Madanha unleashed on the wing, where he damaged defences during the past NPL season. The 2023/24 season may be too soon for young Harry Crawford. But the exit of Nathan Amanatidis to Sydney FC has opened the door for him to become the next exciting winger produced by the South Australian conveyor belt of talent.

Forwards


George Blackwood's departure leaves Adelaide United with only one experienced striker, Hiroshi Ibusuki, as they begin the new A-League Men season. However, given the 32-year-old's struggles with injury in the previous campaign, opportunities will likely arise for his young understudies.


Luka Jovanovic broke into the Reds' first team halfway through the season and was even voted as the league's Player of the Month in March, which justified Veart's belief in him, something which will naturally grow as the young striker gains more experience at the top level. Jovanovic may not offer the same aerial presence as Ibusuki. But his clinical, opportunistic nature and ability to drop deep and link attacking moves may allow Adelaide to explore a different style.


Musa Toure debuted in Round 1 of the 2022/23 A-League Men season but has been plagued by injuries, restricting his playing time. The young striker will hope he can put the poor luck behind him as he plans to emulate the exploits of his brothers, Al Hassan and Mohamed, for his hometown club, whether leading the Reds' line in his favoured position or playing on the wing.

Jake Porter, son of former Gold Coast United player Joel Porter, is another up-and-coming striker on the South Australian scene who has been involved with Adelaide United. But he is currently trialling with EFL League One side Barnsley FC.

 

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The talent produced in South Australia is undeniable. But as the state's sole professional football club, it is up to Adelaide United to maximise it. As the Reds attempt to find the balance between youth and experience, Carl Veart's side will face ups and downs. But the club's leadership must mentor their young players through adversities and ensure they learn from them.


Whatever the Reds' fate in the upcoming campaign, the Australian football community will again have front-row seats to the exciting young prospects developed in South Australia.


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