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  • Writer's pictureAntonis Pagonis

Marius Zanin: Adelaide United's Football Director outlines challenges and the road ahead

Marius Zanin experienced a rollercoaster first season at the helm as Adelaide United's Football Director. From dealing with global giants to grappling with a disappointing season on the field, Zanin recently spoke to Front Page Football about his experience and how the club is approaching the 2024/25 season.

Front Page FootballFront Page Football: Marius Zanin Adelaide United Football Director

Marius Zanin, Adelaide United’s Football Director, has been involved with the club in various roles. (Image: Adelaide United)


Marius Zanin is by no means a new face at Adelaide United, but season 2023/24 was the first one that saw his role go from behind the scenes to the forefront of where the club makes its money: the field.


Zanin has been involved with Adelaide United as far back as when the club experienced its Spanish revolution under coach Josep Gombau. After completing the FIFA Masters course in 2019, Zanin returned to the club as the Head of Marketing and Communications, a role he held until the end of the 2022/23 campaign.


The role of Football Director was vacant for over a year after Bruce Djite and Vito Basile left the club, and Zanin expressed his interest in it to CEO Nathan Kosmina.


“It is always something that I’ve aspired to do by looking at people like Bruce (Djite) and Michael Petrillo, who has been a long-time mentor of mine ever since I first joined the club back in 2013. I saw what he was doing, what he had done, and what he achieved and continues to achieve; I look up to someone like him," Zanin told FPF.

Front Page Football: Marius Zanin Nathan Kosmina Adelaide United

Zanin works closely with Adelaide United CEO Nathan Kosmina. (Image: Adelaide United)


The period when the club lacked a Football Director meant that the role was juggled between head coach Carl Veart and CEO Nathan Kosmina, both already important cornerstones at the club. Understandably, even though the responsibilities were shared, juggling football operations was a struggle for the two as they already had a loaded list of responsibilities.


Former Red Kusini Yengi stated on the "Football Friends with Ben & Stef" podcast that a lack of communication during this period led to his signing with the Western Sydney Wanderers despite his desire to remain at the club.


With a background in communication, Zanin believes his skills are not only transferable to his new role but also vital to it.


"I guess that is one of my strengths, obviously coming from a communications background, it is all about communication with the players; knowing where they sit, what their future looks like, where they stand, why they’re not playing, why they are playing, and how we can help them, especially the younger ones as well," he said.

While he has enjoyed the challenges his new role has provided, including helping to build the squad and dealing with German powerhouse Bayern Munich and Premier League clubs Aston Villa and Brighton and Hove Albion, it has by no means been a smooth ride.

 

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Alongside Craig Goodwin's departure, Zanin spoke honestly about the fan reaction to the backlash against the multitude of exits the Reds have seen during his tenure.


"I honestly understand it from a fan perspective that you don’t necessarily want to see your players go, but we also have to understand where we sit in the football ecosystem. It has always been a challenge to let good players go, but at the same time, the players want to go. It’s not them wanting to leave Adelaide, but they want the opportunity to go play overseas in top leagues like Korea, the MLS, or even the Premier League, so we shouldn’t begrudge that," he added.


"When the opportunity does become available for a player, we work with them, their family, and the agent to make sure everyone benefits. Sometimes it works out, but sometimes it doesn’t, which everyone doesn’t actually hear or know about."


Zanin says a balance must be met while building the A-League Men and Women's squads with the respective coaches. Working towards that has its own challenges.


"The challenge is the backlash we might receive from all this, because it seems like we are here to just sell players. Yes, we are a development club in a development league, so, we will naturally sell players, but it is not why we solely exist," he explained.

"We exist for the people; we are the People’s Club. While we will sell players to be sustainable, like every club in the world does, at the same time, we will still invest into a squad that is competitive and competes for the championship every season.”

Front Page Football: Marius Zanin Carl Veart Adelaide United

As Football Director, Marius Zanin works in conjunction with Carl Veart and Adrian Stenta to construct Adelaide United's men's and women's teams. (Image: Adelaide United)


While both Zanin and the club stand firmly behind the philosophy of providing young players with a platform to move overseas, the Football Director echoed Veart's view that the squad balance was not right in the 2023/24 season.


The message heading towards next season from Zanin is "quality over quantity", focusing on trimming what was deemed an unnecessarily large squad while also addressing positions that have caused the club trouble.


"The defence, we can all agree, was an issue, and it is something that we need to address and will address. I can guarantee that we will bring in a foreign centre-back, someone with experience. Then, up top, we need to find players in that front third who will create chances and score us goals," he said.


"Obviously, I know the Hiroshi (Ibusuki) situation didn’t end the way the fans wanted it to, but we have to move on from that, and we just have to look forward at who we are targeting to ensure we can get players in who can do the job."


According to Zanin, the proactive focus on youth will benefit not only those young players who have already had a taste of A-Leagues football, but also the club's on field fortunes moving forward.


Zanin says that currently Adelaide United's expenditures are "around the middle" of the competition pack, unsurprisingly not at the top with some of the Sydney and Melbourne-based clubs, but also far from the bottom. With cuts in broadcast allocations forecasted, he predicts that many clubs will take a similar approach to that of the Reds and the Central Coast Mariners in the immediate future, which can prove to be a competitive advantage for clubs that have already been committed on that front.

Zanin feels that a talented young player like Archie Goodwin opting to leave his hometown of Newcastle and join the Reds' project is a vote of confidence in what the club is building.

"He (Archie Goodwin) is not the only one. I do get contacted by a lot of agents wanting their players to come across because they know that we have a club with a phenomenal coaching staff that know how to nurture and develop these players, and also the right leaders in the changerooms that can guide them," Zanin said.


Along with Goodwin, Adelaide United has also signed Western Sydney Wanderers winger Dylan Pierias, and more signings are forecasted.


Zanin also spoke about the newly announced partnership with PSV Eindhoven, which provides the club, from players to coaches to departments such as high performance, analysis, and physiotherapy, with an avenue to Europe.


With PSV's operation and context similar to Adelaide's but on a larger scale, Zanin feels like it is a great opportunity to share information. The club eventually hopes to take a youth team overseas to compete in a tournament.


On a personal level, Zanin will work with newly appointed Technical Director Ernest Faber across both the A-League Men and Women's programs, with the two directors having different focuses. Faber will also complement the international scouting the club already undertakes. On a day-to-day basis, though, Faber will focus on the field, working closely with the club's coaching staff to develop the way the club plays its football.

While the football side is essential, as a fan, Zanin knows the importance of the club's culture, which played a significant role in him extending Isaias and Javi Lopez for another year.


"What Isa (Isaias) and Javi (Lopez) bring off the field is crucial, and both want to continue life in Adelaide.

From my point of view, that football DNA is something we don’t lose. It has happened before at our club and other clubs, where legends of our game get pushed to the curb and lost," he explained.


"That is one thing that I didn’t want to see in my role, and if it means that they do another year with us before moving into a coaching role that can help build our club for the future, then let’s do it."

While Zanin understands that fans may be disappointed with the lack of results and signings after losing significant players over the last 12 months, he has emphasised that the club is working hard to change that.


"I would have a bit of faith. We are not making decisions to deliberately hurt the fans and at the end of the day, everyone that works at the club is also a fan at heart," Zanin said on fan disappointment.


"We will recruit well. I can understand why the fans may think otherwise, but I can assure we will continue to do what is best, not only for the club but for the fans. We must drive higher standards, which we will, and we will bring players in who fit our style, philosophy and, most importantly, our culture.

"Yes, we will bring in young players like other clubs, but we will also bring experience to complement that. We have done our reviews, and we know what we need to work on. We know we need to recruit, and that is our plan. We are going to tick all those boxes."


A-Leagues clubs begin their pre-season in July, with the Reds scheduled to take on Blacktown City in the Round of 32 of the Australia Cup.


Click here to read more of FPF's coverage of the A-Leagues!

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