Adelaide United have had the greatest season in their W-League history coming agonisingly close to qualifying for the Finals for the first time and breaking the competition’s regular season attendance record. Ben Gilby spoke to the club’s Head of Women’s Football, Ivan Karlovic about progress in South Australia.
BEN GILBY: Can you tell us a bit about the journey that women’s football has had at Adelaide United?
IVAN KARLOVIC: The last four years has seen the Adelaide United Football Club take over the W-League licence from Football SA (the governing body of the game in the state of South Australia) and in that time, they have heavily invested in trying to improve the program and the resources associated with the women’s program.”
What have been the keys to the incredible season that the club have had in the W-League this year?
I think a lot of our younger players have now established themselves as experienced W-League players over the last three or four years and the continuity of our squad. We’ve probably had the smallest turnover from a playing group from last season which has helped, particularly in the current climate.
The club have had the opportunities to make the Finals in the past but never quite made it. This year you won more games than ever in the W-League and came agonisingly close to playing Finals football. What were the keys behind the successes of 2021?
I think off the field we’re progressing in the right direction and every year we’re continuing to add more value and add more resources and top quality staff to the program and the same on the field. We’re certainly heading in the right direction. It’s one of those things that just takes time. It’s been a number of years. You get a group of young players and start to develop them and give them more experience and this group will continue to evolve and develop in seasons beyond.
Adrian Stenta has come in as Head Coach this season, what qualities has he brought to the role?
Adrian is passionate and understands the game really well. He has a fantastic relationship with all of the players and staff. The continuity of him stepping up from the assistant coach role means he knows the players, he knows how the program operates. He’s been there for the last two years and it makes that transition so much easier and it has been shown in the quality of the results that the team have been producing.
There’s an exciting mix of young players and some overseas stars in the squad at the moment. Can you outline the pathway for young girls in South Australia that can end with a place in the Adelaide United first team?
A lot of girls will start out playing with their junior clubs and there’s the programs and pathways through Football SA. We’ve aligned ourselves and will continue to work with Football SA and the NTC (National Training Centre – based in each of the states) program. They will train with our main group to give them that experience from a young age and hopefully they develop into W-League players. Every year the NPLW (elite level state leagues for women players) is increasing in quality and the level which only makes it better for our W-League side. There are plenty of opportunities for the young players these days.
Adding to that, what are the extent of Adelaide United’s links with the SA NPLW?
We work closely with all of the clubs and the coaches. Firstly to ensure that all of the W-League players that are playing in the NPLW are getting the level of training that they need to maintain the standard for the W-League. We have Michele Lastella who is the NTC Women’s Head Coach forming part of our coaching team which basically links our program with the NTC in terms of the message that we are delivering to players. Michele is aware of that and can relay it to the younger players coming through the programs.
The three overseas players – Mallory Weber, Maria Jose Rojas and Maruschka Waldus bring a great deal to the team. How did they come to join Adelaide United?
‘Cote’ (Maria Jose Rojas) is very familiar with South Australia having played and lived here previously. With her it was about timing. She’s been overseas over the past few years and came back to Adelaide in January and started training with the side at the end of last season but we couldn’t sign her due to foreign rulings. ‘Cote’ has been a leading goal scorer in the NPLW here in South Australia for a number of years.
Mallory came to us last year and was last season’s Club Champion. At the end of last season she spoke to me and was very keen on coming back to play for Adelaide United this year, so she really enjoyed her time which speaks volumes of the program that we’ve produced here with overseas players wanting to come back.
Maruschka, similar with ‘Cote’, was a timing thing. We tried to get her last year, but we couldn’t quite make it work with her club overseas. When the opportunity came to get her this year, we didn’t hesitate and she has added some extreme value to the side and a lot of experience and voice to a young group.
There has recently been the departure of Dylan Holmes, who has had an outstanding season, to play Champions League football for newly formed BK Hacken in Sweden. How do you view that whole situation?
It speaks volumes of what we’ve tried to create here at Adelaide United and the program and what we stand for as a club. Dylan has come in and done really well over the last few years having first played for us in 2014 as a teenager and has developed greatly, working really hard – not just when she is here, but in the off season. She’s a fantastic professional and a fantastic person off the field. For us, Dylan getting this opportunity is exciting, it’s something we want to provide that platform for our younger players – to be able to do what Dylan is doing of being able to realise dreams and one day being able to go and play in Europe.
How have you viewed the W-League this season – particularly with the lower number of international players and Matildas taking part this time round?
Yeah, look, I don’t think it is being disrespectful but the level has dropped off a bit and that’s only normal when you lose so many Matildas and quality international players. But what it has done is given a lot of young players opportunities that they would not have been able to get in the past and we’ve seen some break out seasons from players across the league and that will only help the national team moving forward and the league in general.
How has the coronavirus pandemic impacted Adelaide United?
I don’t think it has impacted on us greatly because our side was predominantly local and locally based over the past few years. We’ve worked hard to develop our local players, so from our point of view I don’t think it has affected us at all because our squad has strengthened in the period whereas other teams have lost international players whether it be overseas players or Matildas. The way our club is structured and our philosophy, it didn’t affect us.
How do you see the club’s short to medium term future in the W-League – say over the next five years?
Immediately it is the need to make Finals. I think we are the only W-League club never to have played Finals football, so that was a huge target of ours. We want to provide a platform for young and predominantly South Australian players to be able to step up and play in the W-League and hopefully push on to opportunities overseas and represent their country.
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