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  • Writer's pictureAntonis Pagonis

The essence of Adelaide United on full display as Reds take A-League Men by storm

On Sunday night, Adelaide United took the Australian football landscape by storm, overwhelming premiers Melbourne City to the tune of six goals through the contributions of a flurry of young talent. Front Page Football delves into the philosophy and historical context that have shaped South Australia's only professional football club.

Nestory Irankunda and Jonny Yull are just two players who capture the essence of Adelaide United. (Ken Carter)

To gain a comprehensive understanding of Adelaide United's current position in the 2023/24 A-League Men season, one must first delve into the club's origins. Before the A-League and Adelaide United, South Australia had two representatives in the National Soccer League. This league swiftly fell away due to financial difficulties in its latter years.

In the lead-up to the 1999/2000 season, West Adelaide withdrew from the competition due to mounting debt before Adelaide City cited similar reasons for removing themselves in August 2003. The great South Australian football divide disappeared from the national competition, and it threatened to leave the state without a representative for the 2003/04 NSL season.

Adelaide United was swiftly established to ensure South Australia's continued representation, deliberately adopting the moniker 'United' and the nickname 'The People's Club.' These choices were made to honour both factions of the Juventus-Hellas rivalry and to embrace the entire football community in the state, underlining the club's role as the sole professional team in the region in a new era for South Australian football.

The concept of Adelaide United has undoubtedly proven successful, with the Reds clinching a championship, multiple premierships and Australia Cup titles, and they have reached an Asian Champions League Final. Yet, the community it serves has occasionally felt neglected, leading to a decline in attendance at matches throughout the years.

However, recent seasons have seen the club making the most of the available resources in the South Australian community. Carl Veart's current squad serves as a testament to this renewed approach.

Adelaide United has made a spectacular start to 2023/24, defeating both of last year’s Grand Finalists and scoring nine goals without having their net breached. The football the Reds are currently playing is easy on the eye. But it takes more than that to engage a diverse community.

The perfect example is the wunderkind on everyone’s lips, Nestory Irankunda.

Irankunda’s parents originate from Burundi, with the young forward himself born in Tanzania. During his time in Australia, Irankunda was embraced by the Adelaide Croatia Raiders at the grassroots level before being picked up by Adelaide United's NPL setup, where his meteoric rise began.

Irankunda is capturing the attention of the football world because of his otherworldly excellence as a teenager and because he has roots in many communities that are actively supporting his success.

The Burundian, Tanzanian, and broader South Australian African community are supporting someone they can relate to, embracing their representation at the sport's top level. Additionally, the Adelaide Croatia community has embraced him as their own. They will support him every week, something he pays back with regular visits to his junior club.

These communities support Adelaide United because it is their local team and because they can see a reflection of themselves at the top level of Australia's domestic competition.

Take that same impact and now consider that at the same time as Irankunda, Adelaide United is fielding young players such as Jonny Yull, Ethan Alagich, Alex Popovic, Luka Jovanovic, Joe Gauci, Panashe Madanha, Bernardo, Musa Toure, and Giuseppe Bovalina, regularly.

Their contributions are affecting the Adelaide United fans expected to show up to games every week. But they also create ripples in the diverse South Australian football community, which right now can be felt every time you attend a match at Coopers Stadium.

Reds manager Veart echoed that sentiment after his side’s victory over Melbourne City, where many of the players mentioned appeared and contributed enormously to the premiers' demise in Adelaide.

“That's how we were set up. We've set up as a South Australian club to promote our players from this state, and it's great that we are still fulfilling that,” Veart said.

A personal anecdote is watching younger cousins excitedly look for a picture they took with Panashe Madanha when he visited their local club after being given a start in Round 1 against the Central Coast Mariners. Their interest in this squad is intensifying and strengthening ties to their football communities because of this impact, combined with the realisation many players currently representing the Reds are only a few years older than them. Their friends are also progressing through the same pathway as these players.

On the pitch, despite Craig Goodwin's exit, Veart has brought out the best in his side, with many players stepping up in the team effort to replace the Socceroo and Johnny Warren Medallist.

For any of Veart's tactical shortcomings, one invaluable trait he has is having experience coaching most of the players mentioned above from a much younger age during his time at the South Australian National Talent Centre.

These factors combine to make Adelaide well and truly “United” regarding representation. But also fun to watch, as their manager knows their strengths and places them in positions to succeed.

“It's very important that everyone enjoys their football and they play with a smile. I've always said that, and you smile a lot more when you're winning," Veart joked.

“It’s important as we don't give too much instructions to the young players; as long as they understand how we want to play, then they have the freedom to do whatever they want to do. If they will do stepovers, if they want to do back heels, they have that complete freedom to do that. I said to Nestor, it's important that he doesn't think too much about his football, that he has to play on his instinct.”


We're only two games in, and Jonny Yull is lifting his game to another level, Joe Gauci is emulating the great Eugene Galekovic in goal, Bernardo is reminding Australian football what he can do, Musa Toure is following the trail blazed by his older brothers, and Irankunda will more than likely be on the books of a world football titan this time next year, with his exploits only increasing the eventual transfer fee. Those are some of the narratives making the Reds so watchable in the season's early days.

There is still a lot to play out for the Reds in 2023/24, and the fundamental questions will be answered when this young group encounters adversity. But, at the moment, the confidence this group is playing with is palpable in the stands and within their more experienced teammates, who are seemingly enjoying a new lease of life on the pitch next to their younger counterparts.

The Reds take on Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC in the next fortnight. Regardless of the results, it is apparent the club is crystal clear on its identity, something it and its fans can lean back on during hard times and celebrate during the good times.

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


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