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  • Writer's pictureAntonis Pagonis

Jai King: A foot in both sides of the modern Adelaide derby

The Australia Cup Round of 16 draw paired NPL SA side Adelaide City against local A-League Men opponents Adelaide United, with the two senior teams facing off in a competitive fixture for the first time. Adelaide City midfielder Jai King is one of many players with recent history on both sides of this matchup. He spoke to Front Page Football in the lead-up to a historic night for South Australian football tomorrow night.

Adelaide City's Jai King competing against his old side, Adelaide United, in the NPL SA competition. (Image: Adam Butler/80Kms)

He may find himself in black and white, but Jai King will always be part of Adelaide United history, at least at an NPL level. The young midfielder was part of the first-ever Young Reds setup, and King has some fond memories in red despite being on a mission to knock his old side out of the Australia Cup.

"I enjoyed my time at Adelaide United. I started in the first Reserves side, and we won the league in the first year. I’m still good friends with most of the guys I played NPL with [over] those years. We were the first youth team to make the finals of an NPL series. We won the first game of the finals against Comets. But then we lost, agonisingly, 1-0 to Metro," King told Front Page Football recently.

"In my later stages of being there, I was training with the A-League squad and some players I could only dream of playing [alongside]. The likes of Riley McGree [and] James Troisi, which was a really good experience."

While playing in the NPL SA for the Young Reds, one opposition team stood out for King. That team was Adelaide City, one of Australian football's most recognisable clubs. The club withdrew from the 2003/04 NSL season, leading to the birth of Adelaide United and the situation both clubs find themselves in today.

"Everyone knows Adelaide City’s history; they are one of the biggest clubs in South Australia [and] Australia. They’ve always had very good players and have been a tough team to beat. That's what attracted me to them," King remarked.

Jai King training with the Adelaide United A-League Men side. (Image: Jai King Instagram)

Long-time mentor Paul Pezos left the Adelaide United Youth team to take over Adelaide City in 2020. King was then honoured to receive a call from the man that coached him for four years. He called his eventual decision to reunite with Pezos at City a "no-brainer."

"Pez is one of the best coaches in South Australia, if not one of the best coaches in Australia, in my opinion. He knows how to get the best out of players, that’s for sure," King added.

A young player, King acknowledged the work Pezos has done to develop young South Australian footballers. He hopes he and his young teammates can continue adding to their success stories.

"Pez, at United, trained some really good players like Carlo Armiento, Louis D’Arrigo, Mohamed Toure, Al Hassan Toure. They all came through the youth team while he was there, and those results speak for themselves, don’t they?" King said.

Jai King has impressed since his move to Adelaide City, becoming a mainstay in midfield for one of the best sides in the NPL SA competition. (Image: Adam Butler/80Kms)

The union of Paul Pezos and Adelaide City has been highly successful. But King, who unfortunately missed the 2021 NPL SA Grand Final win and Australia Cup matchup against Melbourne Victory due to injury, remains hungry for personal success.

"Last year was a bit average for me. I had a good season, scored some goals, [and] had a pretty good first game of the finals series. But unfortunately, I injured my knee at training a week before the second leg of the Semi-Final. I missed out on the Grand Final and the Melbourne Victory game, which was disappointing," King said.

Fortunately for King, he recently picked up his first bit of significant silverware at a senior level. Adelaide City humbled the Modbury Jets in the 2022 Federation Cup Final on the way to an 18th South Australian state cup title.

Jai King and midfield partner Charlie Devereux celebrate their side's 2022 Federation Cup victory. (Image: Adam Butler/80Kms)

It is no secret that King and his teammates have wanted an away day in the Australia Cup. But the combination of an A-League Men opponent and the first on-field chapter of a potential rivalry more than makeup for it, according to King.

"We had a feeling we may draw Adelaide United if we drew an A-League team. I think that even though we missed out on an away trip, this may be a little bit better than that; it is really special," he said.

In the Adelaide United squad, Adelaide City will be coming up against two of its 2021 champions in Lachlan Barr and Asad Kasumovic. Despite their mutual friendship and admiration, City will be out to spoil the party for its ex-players.

The two senior sides have never previously battled in a competitive match. But King has made it clear that himself and many others in the City lineup will be approaching the encounter with a chip on their shoulders.

"Obviously, at Adelaide City, there are a lot of ex-Adelaide United players that didn’t make it at the club. Pez was an ex-United coach, and even Greg Griffin that [also] came in used to own Adelaide United," King said.

"I can speak for other players as well. We’ve come to City because this is where we can improve ourselves the most; the training with Pez, [and] even as a club, I think it is one of the most professional clubs in [the] NPL. We are here to improve ourselves, but we also want to prove a point, and now we have an opportunity."

Despite the history books not officially open for this rivalry yet, a potential National Second Division may see this match become a regular fixture of the football calendar in years to come.

The current Adelaide City and Adelaide United players will go down in history. They are the ones to officially commence proceedings when two clubs from entirely different worlds collide for the first time. The prize for the winner is a ticket to the Australia Cup Quarter-Finals.

"I think it is a good opportunity for a rivalry to begin. Adelaide City are three-time National Champions, [and] so are Adelaide United, three-time National Cup winners. It is new against the old, and this is a good way to start," King concluded.

If you would like to read a feature writer Antonis Pagonis did on Adelaide City Women Head Coach Angelo Paul, click here.

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