NO SPAIN, NO GAIN
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