Adelaide United: The club with no academy blessed with some of Australia’s best talent – by @scout_aussie
Australia is a unique football nation in many ways. Here in Australia, the round-ball game is one of four major football codes, and is perhaps the least mainstream of all those codes, subject often to derision and unfair treatment from media and the public. Likewise, the A-League, Australia’s sole professional football league, cannot boast the history of European or South American football leagues. It was born in 2005, composed largely of new clubs in a still incredibly divisive move away from the mostly ethnic community based clubs that made up its predecessor, the National Soccer League (NSL). Until 2015, most of these clubs did not have academies, and the burden of youth development fell on the former NSL clubs. It was around this point, however, that A-League clubs entered youth teams down to U13 into their respective state-based competitions – the National Premier Leagues (NPL). It is only now that Australia is starting to produce players who have come through A-League academies for most of their 12-18 developmental phase, with notable examples being Ryan Teague (contracted to Famalicao) and Cameron Peupion (contracted to Brighton and Hove Albion).
The exception to this rule however, is Adelaide United, South Australia’s only professional football club. The club has only two youth teams – one playing in NPL South Australia’s (South Australia’s semi-professional competition) Reserves league, and one playing in the 1st Grade competition. This is a complete departure from the typical development youth model pioneered all over the world, and leaves a developmental void up until the age of about 16. Yet into this void has stepped the South Australian National Training Centre, as well as local semi- professional clubs, and they are doing a mightily good job. Clubs like Adelaide Croatia Raiders, Croydon Kings and Adelaide Olympic, as well as the SA NTC, produce talent which flows into the Adelaide United setup with increasing success. Despite making up only 7% of the Australian population, South Australians made up 17.3% of all U23 Australians in the A-League last season, and this number will only continue to increase with the quality and quantity of Adelaide talent coming through at the moment. There are a number of very promising young players currently in the Adelaide youth team and progressing into the first team.
Who is coming through?
Mohamed Touré (2004)
Touré is probably the most well-known of the Adelaide youth brigade, and is strongly rumoured to be signing for a Ligue 1 side upon turning 18. He is a product of Croydon Kings and made his professional debut for Adelaide in February 2020 as a 15 year old and became the A-League’s youngest ever goalscorer when he scored six days later against the Central Coast Mariners. He is a powerful attacking player, capable of playing on either wing or as a centre forward. He is exceptionally quick, using his speed to beat defenders easily when finding space in front of him. This speed, in transition, is incredibly effective, and Touré has shown his potency in such moments with goals against Melbourne Victory and Western Sydney Wanderers. He has developed strong hold-up ability, using his strength to drop deep and hold off defenders before distributing the ball to onrushing wingers or using his pace to turn the defender. He shoots with power, and is capable of scoring from distance. He also has good instinctive positioning, taking up good positions in the penalty box, while playing both in and out of possession with noticeable aggression and passion. However, Touré is not an overly technical player, and at such a young age, his decision making is sometimes poor. He thrives playing with space ahead of him, however in smaller spaces he can sometimes struggle. With his profile, he has significant potential and capacity for development, and has the ability to play at a high level.
Jonny Yull (2005)
Yull is a product of both West Torrens Birkalla and the SA NTC system before progressing to the Adelaide United set up, where he is signed on a scholarship contract. He made his debut in January this year, becoming the 5th youngest A-League player of all time as a late substitute against Perth Glory. Yull is a technical right-footed central midfielder, generally playing as an ‘8’. He is excellent at finding space in midfield and carrying the ball progressively, as well as creating chances from deep. He is highly spatially intelligent, and uses this intelligence to allow his team to break lines of opposition presses. He is proficient at making forward runs into the box and threatening the opposition goal from distance and often combines well with one-touch play to create chances in the opposition final third. His movement off the ball is excellent and he epitomises the mentality of ‘pass and move,’ rarely remaining static after releasing the ball and in doing so, creating space for his side. Yull is a skilful player, capable of beating defenders 1v1 with quick ball movement and has good weight of passing rendering him capable to open up defences with balls in behind. He doesn’t shirk his defensive duties and has a high work ethic in and out of possession. However physically, Yull is still developing and loses out frequently in his aerial duels, an area for improvement in his pathway to regular first-team football. Overall, Yull is a very promising player who has the technical and tactical attributes to play at a high level.
Nestor Irankunda (2006)
Irankunda, a product of Adelaide Croatia Raiders, made his debut for the Adelaide NPL 1st Grade side this season, having played U12s football only 3 years ago, and signed a scholarship contract this month – a truly rapid rise. He is the only player in this article not yet to have made a senior debut. He is a quick and technical right-footed winger, capable of playing on either wing. He is at his best running at defenders, using his speed and 1v1 dribbling ability to beat players with direct, purposeful runs – he carries the ball very progressively and well, often executing long, mazy runs. Irankunda plays with confidence, flair and purpose and these attributes are noticeable in his game. He picks up good positions, often dropping between the opposition’s midfield and defensive lines to receive the ball and either distribute to his fullback or use his strength, skill and speed to turn and face forward. He provides good crossing service into the box, and is generally multi-dimensional and unpredictable in his wing play. He is deceptively strong and aggressive, hustling and using his physical strength and body position against much older opponents to keep and win back the ball. He is very energetic in his press out of possession and has contributed to goals with his pressing ability; his speed over short distances means he can often surprise opponents with the rapidity of his movement and arrival in the press. His decision making can still improve, sometimes playing balls blindly into the box without checking the run of the striker, while his finishing can improve – although, it should be noted, that despite that, his goals per 90 output in NPL SA was double that of his xG. Irankunda is a very good talent – picking up 3 goals and 2 assists in only 6 starts for Adelaide’s 1st Grade NPL team this season as the youngest player in the competition. He has the potential to play at a high level.
Bernardo Oliveira (2004)
Bernardo is another on a scholarship contract at Adelaide United, having previously been on a scholarship at Melbourne City. He is the son of Cassio, a Brazilian Adelaide United legend who settled in Australia after his retirement, and upon his debut for Adelaide in the FFA Cup vs. Floreat Athena, Bernardo and Cassio became the first father-son combination to both play for Adelaide United. He was very impressive in his debut, showing the qualities which has seen him capped for Australia at U15 level. He is a left-footed attacking midfielder often playing off the right hand side, where he likes to cut back inside onto his left. He has really good acceleration and uses that speed to beat players easily cutting back inside. This acceleration and agility, his good close control, flair, and his confidence combine in Bernardo; he has excellent 1v1 ability and he loves to take on defenders. This is exemplified in the way he takes corners; he frequently takes short corners in which he receives the ball again and takes on a defender 1v1. He has a very low centre of gravity, and this allows him to move quickly between defenders under pressure. He carries the ball very well, however sometimes overplays and carries the ball too far into areas from which he cannot exit. This is a decision making weakness within his game – where he sometimes delays the final ball by carrying the ball too far to a point where the final ball has been missed. He is a serious goalscoring threat cutting back onto his left foot, from inside and especially from outside the box, opportunities which he creates frequently, yet the efficiency with which he takes these opportunities needs to be improved. In his NPL appearances this season, he was dangerous, yet sometimes became uninvolved in games, and this is an aspect of his game which can be improved. When on the ball, he is consistently very dangerous. Out of possession, his effort is good, although sometimes can be improved. He is constantly targeted by opponents due to his outstanding skill and agility, and wins a lot of fouls. He has strong potential.
Adelaide United are a club which European scouts should be aware of. In spite of or maybe due to their unique model, their youth side is brimming full of talented players, many of whom have potential to play in Europe in the coming years. Already in the past few years, products of this system have moved to Europe, including Riley McGree to Club Brugge and then Birmingham City, Ryan Strain to Maccabi Haifa and Lachlan Brook to Brentford, and more will follow.