NO SPAIN, NO GAIN

The Advertiser - SA Weekend - - SPORT - Words michael mcguire pic­tures matt turner

IN THE WORLD of Josep Gom­bau there is his way and the wrong way. High marks are awarded to those who match his love for foot­ball, and a dis­mis­sive “fail” for those who don’t. Nor does the Ade­laide United coach give sec­ond chances. Gom­bau left a well­paid, com­fort­able job in the desert city of Dubai be­cause he felt the lo­cals’ pas­sion for foot­ball did not match his.

“I love the foot­ball 10, and they love the foot­ball two,” he says in his strong Span­ish ac­cent. “In that mo­ment I can’t be happy there. They don’t like the foot­ball enough.” Ade­laide you have been warned. But the Dubai ex­pe­ri­ence also re­veals another telling as­pect of Gom­bau’s character. The fact that he was will­ing to move there in the first place un­der­scores just how much he is a risk-taker – and a gam­bler.

That is his his­tory. Gom­bau left a se­cure job in the Span­ish tax of­fice and closed his cloth­ing store to be­come a youth coach at Barcelona, one of the world’s big­gest foot­ball clubs. He was well en­sconced there but jumped to Dubai be­cause Barcelona wouldn’t pro­mote him from kids’ foot­ball.

Then he left Dubai for Hong Kong. Then Ade­laide beck­oned. Ev­ery step has taken him fur­ther away from Spain. But closer to ful­fill­ing his am­bi­tions.

This is Gom­bau’s sec­ond year in charge of the Reds. It has started well with vic­tory over Bris­bane and a draw with Mel­bourne. Op­ti­mism, and ex­pec­ta­tion, is build­ing that this year could be a spe­cial one for the Reds.

The Spa­niard’s first sea­son was a volatile mix of good re­sults and bad, lots of goals, a new play­ing style, and a nasty fight with a jour­nal­ist from The Ad­ver­tiser.

But, by the end of the sea­son, Gom­bau had made such an im­pres­sion Ade­laide was seen as one of the most at­trac­tive teams to watch in Aus­tralia and the man him­self had been elected by fans around the coun­try to coach the A-League All Stars against Ital­ian gi­ants Ju­ven­tus. His touch­line an­tics, his goal-scor­ing cel­e­bra­tions, in­clud­ing scoop­ing up winger Awer Ma­bil in his arms, his, at times, raw emo­tion also won over Reds sup­port­ers.

Th­ese fans had not been sure what to ex­pect when this Span­ish coach, who learned his trade at the mighty Barcelona, landed in Ade­laide with his wife Rom­ina and two young daugh­ters Maria, 3, and Bruna, 15 months.

What they found out was that the 38-year-old from the vil­lage of Am­posta, not far from Barcelona, is a fer­vent ad­vo­cate of at­tack­ing foot­ball. You could also call him a foot­ball purist, a fun­da­men­tal­ist even. Win­ning is not just about three points. “It is bet­ter to win 4-3, than 1-0,” Gom­bau says when we meet in a sparse meet­ing room at the club’s Hind­marsh head­quar­ters. Gom­bau has even sug­gested that the style of the foot­ball can be more im­por­tant than the sub­stance.

“For me it is even bet­ter to lose a game play­ing well than to win a game play­ing poorly,” he says.

That is an in­flam­ma­tory point of view in a na­tion like Aus­tralia where fans, and coaches, live and die by re­sults. It’s cer­tainly hard to imag­ine Gom­bau’s pre­de­ces­sors in the United job such as John Kos­mina or Aure­lio Vid­mar es­pous­ing sim­i­lar views.

Gom­bau’s caveat though is that, in the long run, if you play the right way, the re­sults will follow and you will even­tu­ally win more games than you lose.

It’s a phi­los­o­phy that will re­ceive its first se­ri­ous test this year. If sea­son one of the Gom­bau method was about in­stalling his phi­los­o­phy then sea­son two has to be about re­sults.

After a rot­ten start Ade­laide played fi­nals last year and fin­ished sixth. In bald terms this is not re­ally much of an achieve­ment in a 10-team league, and ac­tu­ally worse than the pre­vi­ous sea­son’s fourth place re­sult.

Fox Sports foot­ball an­a­lyst Si­mon Hill, a Gom­bau fan, reck­ons Ade­laide needs to fin­ish at least fourth for this sea­son to be deemed a suc­cess.

“I like him as a bloke,” Hill says. “I think he has got great ideas. I like the way his teams play; I think it’s ex­cit­ing. I think he will do good things for the game in Aus­tralia.”

Gom­bau is shy­ing away from mak­ing pre­dic­tions but al­ways said it would take some time for the play­ers to adapt to his par­tic­u­lar phi­los­o­phy, which is mod­elled on the Span­ish “tika-taka” style, which val­ues ball re­ten­tion and pos­ses­sion above all else.

Still, it’s hard to sense any el­e­ment of self-doubt talk­ing to Gom­bau. There is an almost ag­gres­sive belief that his ideas are the right ones.

“I am very clear about what I want to do and what I need to do and the way I will do it,” he says. “If you like it, OK, if you don’t like it, that’s your prob­lem.”

In his home in Ade­laide’s in­ner east­ern sub­urbs a more re­laxed Gom­bau emerges as he plays with daugh­ter Maria and the baby in the fam­ily, Bruna, who was only a month old when she ar­rived in Ade­laide.

Wife Rom­ina says it was tough ar­riv­ing in a town where they knew no one.

“We didn’t have friends, didn’t have any­thing in the be­gin­ning,” she says. “Now it is dif­fer­ent. We set­tle here, we have to say thank you to the peo­ple be­cause they help us set­tle here.”

The pair met in a su­per­mar­ket 13 years ago, with Josep im­me­di­ately declar­ing this would be the woman he would marry. Rom­ina was not quite so im­pressed and turned down his first of­fer of a date. Two months later they met again through a mu­tual friend and this time she ac­cepted.

“We went and he con­vinced me,” she says. “After 13 years, here we are at the other side of the world.”

Although be­ing the wife of a coach is not the eas­i­est job in the world. There are cer­tain rit­u­als and ob­ser­vances to be fol­lowed.

“The day of the match and the pre­vi­ous day is not easy for the fam­ily be­cause he has to con­cen­trate,” she says. “We have to follow his rou­tine. Ev­ery­one has rou­tine be­fore the match and every­body is fol­low­ing, the daugh­ters and the wife.”

The day be­fore a game, Gom­bau needs a re­laxed af­ter­noon and may go and see a movie. On the days of a match he likes to have break­fast in the same spot and to fill the house with Span­ish mu­sic.

“When he leaves we are in the calm again, then we are ready to go to the match and en­joy it,” Rom­ina says.

In those early days he would have needed lots of support. It was a rough start for Gom­bau in Ade­laide. The team en­dured a ter­ri­ble be­gin­ning to his first sea­son – the team win­ning only one of the first 10 games it played. But Gom­bau says his faith never wa­vered. In typ­i­cal style he

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