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  • Writer's pictureAntonis Pagonis

A two-year wait: Adelaide United's James Delianov rewarded for patience and professionalism

James Delianov was supposed to be Paul Izzo's replacement at Adelaide United, but bad luck combined with Joe Gauci's emergence as a Socceroo sidelined the goalkeeper for two years. The opportunities from the latter's success have now opened the door for Delianov to reclaim the spot he once held.

James Delianov took the field for Adelaide United in an A-League Men game after two years on the outer when the Reds faced Wellington last month. (Image: Ben Blaess/BDb.media)


The starting goalkeeper spot has been clearly defined for most of Adelaide United's 20-year existence. That was not the case on the eve of season 2020/21. In October 2022, the Reds lost starting goalkeeper Paul Izzo to Greek club Xanthi, coached by Tony Popovic, while second-choice Isaac Richards left the club months earlier to pursue a career in mixed martial arts.


With the South Australian club down to third-choice goalkeeper Dakota Ochsenham, the work was left to 2016 Adelaide United championship captain and current Goalkeeper Coach Eugene Galekovic to replenish the position's stocks.


The calls went to Victorian-based goalkeeper duo Joe Gauci and James Delianov, who were both lured to Adelaide by the opportunity to battle for the vacated spot in goals. Speaking to Front Page Football, the latter admitted it was a call he could not deny.


"Honestly, when I came here, I was 21 years old, and I remember getting a call from Eugene (Galekovic) saying, ‘Come over, I want you to come play for us’, and that is every young goalkeeper's main objective, to play football, and that was the main reason I came over, to get match minutes and I have enjoyed it ever since," Delianov shared.

Coming from interstate in a period of complex border regulations due to the COVID-19 pandemic meant that Delianov had to endure two weeks of hotel quarantine before jumping into the scorching Adelaide weather to fight for the coveted starting spot.


The pre-season culminated with Delianov earning the right to begin the season as, like his new number suggested, Adelaide's number-one goalkeeper. The young goalkeeper made a solid start to life as a Red, keeping a clean sheet in his first game away to Western United. He later earned two consecutive Member's Player of the Month awards in the first half of the season.


Delianov reflected on the start of that season and shared that he felt a sense of accomplishment after recovering from a long-term injury to claim a starting spot at a new club.


"Obviously, I was very honoured. It was, I remember, playing a first game against West United and being a little bit emotional going into the game because the previous year I had done my ACL, so there were definitely a lot of doubts going into that season and thinking, 'When am I going to get my next opportunity?' But it came, and I was very honoured and grateful," he said.


Besides a brief stint on the sidelines due to a hamstring injury, Delianov remained Adelaide's starting goalkeeper during his first season. He even saved a penalty in his side's Semi-Final defeat to Sydney FC.


Unfortunately for the goalkeeper, disaster struck when he suffered a significant shoulder injury against Wellington Phoenix on New Year's Day of season 2021/22. When Delianov returned from his injury this time, Joe Gauci's form between the sticks had made him undroppable.


Delianov admitted he was frustrated but knew that developments like that are just part of football.


"I guess that is just the journey of football. It was frustrating because injuries happen, and that is sometimes out of your control. When I was injured, the thinking was about how I could get my spot back, and when Joe (Gauci) was injured, I guarantee that he had the same mentality. That is part of football, and you have to accept it, but it is definitely frustrating."

Gauci inarguably took full advantage of his opportunity, which made it impossible for Delianov to get close to the starting line-up for two years. Despite that, Delianov shared that the relationship between him and his replacement remained great throughout that period.


"Me and Joe have a great relationship. He definitely took his opportunity with both hands, and you can see that with him being selected for the Socceroos. We just continued to motivate each other, because we understand the emotion of being a goalkeeper, what it is like being the number two, and what it is like playing. We have a lot of respect for each other and we have continued pushing each other," he shared.


Not featuring during games can be frustrating, but Delianov believes that every goalkeeper in the squad has a role to play to get the best out of each other. He used the example of Kamil Grabara's controversial outbursts against Mat Ryan in Copenhagen as something that can be counterproductive for the psyche of the starting goalkeeper, which can later affect the squad.


"Mat Ryan’s position was pretty crazy; I don’t think you’ll ever see Joe or myself, or any other goalkeeper at Adelaide United, act that way towards their fellow goalkeepers. You definitely have to play a role and you have to bide your time, continue to work hard and support each other. I think it is just in our nature to be honest because we all have the same mentality and help each other."

James Delianov had to bide his time behind Joe Gauci, who was Adelaide United's starting goalkeeper for two years. (Image: Ben Blaess/BDb.media)


Delianov's professional approach as Gauci's backup was justified when the Socceroos selected Adelaide United's starter for the Asian Cup. Gauci's call-up to the national team meant that two years and three days after being substituted with an injured shoulder, Delianov was back between the sticks for Adelaide United in an A-League Men game, ironically against Wellington Phoenix, the team against which he sustained his injury.


Delianov admitted that he does feel pressure due to entering this stint without a contract for next season and a lack of competitive football, but he insists that his sole focus is on enjoying his football.


The goalkeeper has produced some strong performances since returning to the starting line-up, and credits Galekovic and his work on keeping the club's goalkeepers ready to go.


"I think that having Eugene as our goalkeeper coach definitely helps a lot. The goalkeepers who are not playing work extremely hard in training to try and mimic the games as much as possible. I feel like I have been getting better by just dealing with game situations and continuing to improve. A big compliment definitely goes to Eugene for keeping us sharp and ready to go when we are not playing."

The past couple of seasons have not been easy for Delianov at Adelaide United. Still, he shared that the struggles he has faced on his journey have given him a different perspective on football and life and have taught him to be patient and grateful.


"I think during these periods, especially with the ACL, I learned a lot and players do learn a lot about themselves mentally and physically. As weird as it sounds, I am a little bit grateful for these experiences because it makes me look at life and football differently and how hard you need to work to get better."

The goalkeeper admitted that he felt that staying in Adelaide, despite losing his spot, was the right choice due to the highly talented goalkeeping group, including Gauci, along with promising youngsters Ethan Cox and Steven Hall, providing a challenge under the tutelage of an A-Leagues legend in Galekovic.


His choice was justified, with Hall and, more importantly, Gauci recently departing Adelaide United for Brighton and Hove Albion and Aston Villa, respectively. Those outgoing transfers mean that what was originally scheduled as a temporary stint as Adelaide United's number one has turned into a permanent return for Delianov.


Delianov shared that he was excited for his teammates and their moves, but regardless of how the starting goalkeeper position plays out at club level, he will be maintaining his mentality of working hard to retain that spot.

 

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Before Delianov's return game against Wellington, manager Carl Veart called his second-choice custodian "the best reserve goalkeeper" in the competition.


While Delianov shared that he was admittedly encouraged by his manager's trust, he now wants to take the opportunity he has been presented with to prove to the rest of the league that his manager's words are accurate.


Click here to read more of FPF's coverage of the A-Leagues, which includes opinion, analysis, and interviews like this one!

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