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  • Writer's pictureAntonis Pagonis

Alagich and Adelaide United's youngsters keen to prove they "can play at this level" in 2023/24

Adelaide United's inactivity in the transfer market has been described as clearing the path for an exceptionally talented generation of young Reds to take their chances in the first team. Ethan Alagich is one of those players, and in the lead-up to the 2023/24 A-League Men season, the young midfielder spoke to Front Page Football about the upcoming campaign.

Ethan Alagich (left) and Alex Popovic after playing their first "Original Derby" match for Adelaide United against Melbourne Victory in November 2022. (Alexandar Popović Instagram)


Carl Veart raised many eyebrows with Adelaide United's starting lineup against Melbourne Victory in November last year. An hour before what is traditionally the club's most significant home game of the season, the manager had named teenage midfielder Ethan Alagich in the starting XI for the first time in his professional career.


The Reds secured a memorable three-goal win over their fierce rivals, with Alagich making a notable contribution to the victory, displaying his ability without any signs of being overwhelmed. Since then, Veart has continued to back Alagich and other talented youngsters with minutes in what is internally regarded as a strong crop of junior players, with many forecasted to be more than capable A-League Men performers and beyond.


"I think that was one of the coolest moments or experiences in terms of football because, as a kid, you grow up knowing that Victory is the biggest rivalry for Adelaide, so to make my debut against them in front of 13-14 thousand people, it was incredible. I had been looking forward to that moment my whole life, and for it to actually happen, it was an awesome experience," shared Alagich, whose family's involvement with the club stretches to his father and aunt, who represented Adelaide United during their playing careers.

Alagich praised Carl Veart's influence, highlighting that he had coached many young players, including himself, during their teenage years in the Football South Australia NTC system when he was involved with the program. The midfielder believes the impact the next generation is making for the Reds is closely linked to their familiarity with their head coach and his standards.


"He (Veart) knows what we are capable of, and to have his trust makes it a lot easier to bridge the gap from training in the youth system to coming into the senior side because we know what to expect from him and his standards. That is why we are so comfortable in this environment because he backs us and what we can do, and he believes in us and the ability we’ve got," Alagich said.


Adelaide United will have to lean on this relationship between Veart and his young players as the club saw several first-team players depart in the off-season, with only Ryan Tunnicliffe being signed from outside the club to help bolster its midfield. Alagich is keen to show Reds fans he and his fellow young teammates belong at the A-League level and are more than capable of plugging any potential holes.


"As fans, it is natural to get sceptical about no signings. But when you understand the talent that we’ve got, it won’t take people long to realise we can play at this level week in, week out."

"We started to see that with Jonny (Yull) towards the end of last year when he was starting games, Popa (Popovic), Bernie (Bernardo), who didn’t play much last year because of injury but played most of the games the year before, Panashe (Madanha) started a couple; we’ve all got that bit of experience and most of us are ready to take another leap, and I believe we can do that this season."


Alagich and his young teammates created history in the NPL SA this year when they claimed Adelaide United's first championship at that level. The 19-year-old captained his team to victory in the Grand Final while also being named the Player of the Match. He shared that the chemistry developed over their challenging formative years gave the Young Reds the advantage on the day and will help them when they face adversity in their A-League Men careers.


"I think that is a credit to us as players because three or so years ago, most of us started coming through, and we were almost relegated two seasons in a row," Alagich reflected.


"I think that is what got us over the line, along with how well we knew each other as players. The majority of that starting XI (in the NPL SA Grand Final), we’ve been playing together at this level for three years and even further going back to the NTC. It was a very good moment to have to win it; a couple of years ago, we didn’t even think we could win this thing; we were playing to not play in State League One, so that was an unreal experience.


"We built that chemistry which has been able to last through tough times, and we’ve slowly moved our way up. Even when we are on the pitch now making the transition into A-League, you can see we understand each other and the way we want to play because we have played together for so long."
 

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Alagich (centre left) and NPL Head Coach Airton Andrioli (left) being awarded the 2023 NPL SA Championship by Football South Australia CEO Michael Carter. (Adam Butler/80kms)


It is no secret Adelaide United will field a largely inexperienced squad throughout season 2023/24, which makes captain Craig Goodwin's exit even more problematic. However, Alagich has confidence in newly-appointed captain Ryan Kitto, considering him and the rest of the leadership group more than capable of filling the void. He recounted his initial experience with the fullback during his first away trip with the squad when they travelled to face NPL WA side Floreat Athena in the Australia Cup two years ago.


"I spoke to (Ryan) Kitto almost the whole flight back from Perth, which is like three hours, so he has always been one to help and to make everyone feel welcome. Isaias, Ben Halloran; they are all good people you can talk to, and everyone else, all the older boys around you, [and] even someone like Joe (Gauci) who is still younger but has still been in this system long enough," Alagich said.


"They are all players you can lean on for advice and to help lift you; we are not the type of team to get down on one another. We stay positive, and that comes from them, the leadership group, that yes, we are going to face difficulties, but we are going to do it as a team and work our way through it to better outcomes."


Alagich pointed out that both leaders, Ryan Kitto and Joe Gauci, share a similar characteristic to Goodwin, which will undoubtedly benefit their younger teammates. Like their former captain, the two players also faced challenges breaking through in South Australia, gaining experience interstate and at the NPL level before establishing themselves as Adelaide United regulars.


"I think that is massive because they know what it takes not to have it easy. No player has had it easy, but some players have had it harder than others, and for them, knowing what it is like to not be here first and having to go elsewhere for an opportunity, they know how to face adversity and it is something that can be easily passed down and taught to us younger boys who are just beginning to come through."

Leadership with such experiences can prove invaluable for the emerging young Reds, who are set to gain more playing time during the 2023/24 A-League Men season. After making his senior debut last season, Alagich continues to fight for a spot in Adelaide United's starting XI, relying on his adaptability in the midfield area, which he sees as a distinct advantage.


"In the majority of my early years, I played as an attacking midfielder, and then obviously, with the amount of attacking talent we have, I transitioned into more of a six. For me, that is a good thing because I can cover a few positions. I love playing as a six like I have in the NPL, but I’m happy to play attacking as I enjoy getting forward," Alagich said.


Adelaide United's season kicks off on Friday night at home against the Central Coast Mariners, the A-League Men champions, and a side Veart's Reds did not earn a point against in four encounters the previous campaign. Alagich will be just one of the many players under the age of 23 eager to impress their manager in a bid for starting spots that are clearly up for grabs across the park.


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