Monday, November 3, 2008
Vidmar's victory secrets
In the space of a few months, Adelaide United's Aurelio Vidmar has gone from facing a chorus of calls for his resignation to Australia's hottest coaching property.
As Vidmar leads Adelaide into an unlikely AFC Asian Champions League final over two legs against Japanese heavyweights Gamba Osaka, speculation grows about the former Socceroo striker's future.
He is likely to be the target of big money Asian clubs after his stunning achievement of taking a side that finished third-last in the previous Hyundai A-League season to the biggest match in Australian club history.
It's as much a triumph for the 41-year-old Vidmar as it is for his resilient 23-man squad that has already clocked up 85,000km with trips to Uzbekistan, Japan, North Korea, Vietnam and China. Vidmar has somehow managed to keep his players fresh and focused and still performing in the A-League, despite their heavy Asian schedule.
Ahead of Round nine's home match with Perth Glory, the Reds arrived home just the day before the game after crossing six time zones on their way back from the AFC Champions League semi-final second-leg in Uzbekistan.
Yet they were able to respond with a come-from-behind 2-1 victory that saw them score two late goals to win. And although they fell to a 3-2 defeat to Melbourne Victory in Round 10 - their 11th match in seven weeks - the Reds are joint top of the league, only behind Melbourne on goal difference.
All through Adelaide's remarkable campaign, the low-key Vidmar has deflected praise onto his players, paying tribute to their mental toughness, defensive capabilities and fighting spirit.
But his role in the feel-good factor in South Australia this season cannot be underestimated and wouldn't have gone unnoticed by football bosses around the region.
Taking a no-frills Adelaide squad to the AFC Champions League final - earning a spot in December's FIFA Club World Cup - is a comparable achievement to Jorvan Vieira guiding underdogs Iraq to glory in the 2007 Asian Cup.
Despite the inevitable questions about the possibility of earning a massive paycheque elsewhere, Vidmar plays down any speculation of an imminent move. He won't be discussing a contract extension at the Reds until the end of the year.
''I haven't had any offers and I'm not even interested in any offers,'' he said. ''At this point in time I'm extremely happy here. I think it's the best club in the country by far.''
Vidmar took over the reigns at Hindmarsh Stadium in February 2007 when the volatile John Kosmina departed in acrimonious circumstances in the wake of a 6-0 thrashing in the A-League Grand Final.
It was initially in a caretaker capacity before he was confirmed as head coach after the 2007 AFC Champions League campaign that saw the Reds fail to advance after finishing third in their group. In the subsequent A-League season, they missed out on the semi-finals in a disappointing sixth place.
That first jaunt into Asia helped Vidmar build tactics and strategies for the current campaign that saw Adelaide outperform Melbourne Victory to become the first Aussie club to make the knockout stages.
Having played overseas in Spain, Belgium, Switzerland and the Netherlands - plus Japan - the thoughtful Vidmar already had significant exposure to many different footballing philosophies outside Australia.
And now, Vidmar may be able to bring a lasting football legacy to the city where he was born in 1967. Already, there's talk that the Reds' unexpected international success could provide the impetus for a purpose-built stadium to be built in Adelaide that could host Socceroo matches.
Hindmarsh Stadium has a capacity of less than 18,000 while cricket's Adelaide Oval and the AFL's AAMI Stadium have been deemed unsuitable by Football Federation Australia.
Ahead of Adelaide's showdown with Gamba Osaka for the AFC Champions League crown, Vidmar shared a few secrets with ESPNsoccernet about the Reds' remarkable rise, including bringing along an Aussie chef for the trip to Uzbekistan.
Q: Aurelio, heading into the AFC Asian Champions League campaign, how did your expectations compare with what Adelaide have achieved?
A. We certainly had the confidence we could reach the second stage and then it was a matter of the luck of the draw. That went out the window when we were drawn against Kashima Antlers.
Q: What do you consider to be the keys to the Reds getting this far?
A. Great teamwork and unity. With good results confidence grows amongst the group.
Q: How big a challenge has it been for Adelaide, given the size of your squad and budget compared to some of the teams you've played?
A. We are at an enormous disadvantage due to our salary cap and limited player roster. To have only 23 players in our squad and A$1.9 million salary cap to work with, we have achieved something quite extraordinary. Some players that we have played against this campaign earn more than our entire salary cap, so that puts things into perspective.
Q: How have you tried to adapt your tactics, depending on your opposition, the conditions and the players available?
A. Our tactics change depending on whom we are up against and sometimes we only concentrate on ourselves and don't worry too much about the opposition. Our first ACL campaign in 2007 has helped up enormously for the campaign.
Q: What has been Adelaide's best performance of the campaign so far?
A. I've personally enjoyed every single game, but obviously the further you go in the competition the better and the bigger the games get. Quarter and semi-finals are always great ties. Playing the Kashima Antlers was probably the most taxing physically and emotionally.
Q: You were able to knockout the Kashima Antlers. How will that help your team's confidence and tactics against Gamba?
A. The players' confidence has grown with every match. But the final is a new game with different players and a different environment.
Q: What would be a good result in the first leg, coming back from Japan ahead of the second leg in Adelaide?
A. A positive result is what every team wants when they play away from home. Gamba have a fantastic away record, so I believe there will still be a lot to play for in the return leg.
Q: What has Adelaide's performance proven to Asia about the strength of Aussie football, players and coaches?
It has been proved that if we are physically and mentally prepared, we are strong enough to challenge any team anywhere in Asia. You need a lot of things to go your way. For example about four Socceroos missed the World Cup qualifier in Uzbekistan because of a stomach bug and Australia's Under-20 side, the Joeys, also went down with the bug during their time there. We were worried that there might be a problem for our team.
We took all the necessary precautions and brought our own chef with us, which was an added cost to the club but everyone was pleased that these small details weren't overlooked. At the end only one player missed the game due to the dreaded 'Tashkent belly'.
Q: People have said that Adelaide 's performance has made you a hot coaching property. How open would you be to considering an offer to coach in Japan or even Europe in the future?
A: At this point in time we are having a great period with the club, so we must enjoy every minute of it because things can turn sour quickly. I am only into my second full season in coaching and have a lot to learn. These past two seasons, especially in the ACL, have helped me develop tremendously.
Coaching and playing can be about timing, I'm very happy at this point of time with Adelaide United but you don't know what the future holds. One day I would love to have the opportunity to coach overseas.
• Sydney-born Jason Dasey (www.jasondasey.com) is an international broadcaster and corporate host. He covered the 2006 World Cup and 2007 Asian Cup for ESPN.