The importance of Guillermo Amor to Adelaide United’s ‘Barcelonification’

Adelaide United’s appointment of Guillermo Amor as a Director of Football seemed to fly under the radar. Considering the Spanish midfielder played over 311 games for Barcelona, and 37 for his national side, it’s surprising – he’s a genuine Barcelona legend, as the club’s third most capped player of all time, and was a key player in the ‘Dream Team’ of the early 1990s. He won five league titles, three Copa del Reys and five European trophies, including one European Cup in 1992. This is one of the most successful and important players of the pre-2000 era, coming to an A-League side.

Amor’s resume extends beyond impressive playing days, too. He spent a total of eight years coaching and directing at Barcelona, building upon the philosophy implanted into him by Johan Cruyff, who was the coach of that Dream Team. Amor is a typical Barcelona coach in the sense that he values the ‘system’ above all else. “What we must never lose is our style; the essence.  That mustn’t be lost, no matter who is in the first team,” referring to Barcelona in an interview with the official club website earlier this year. “We have to maintain this because it’s what has given us, and will give us, success.”

It is no surprise, then, that Josep Gombau has recruited him. Gombau’s project, of course, needs little introduction. His aim to introduce the Barcelona style to Adelaide United, having already partly done so with Kitchee United in Hong Kong. His appointment was the specific response of the club board to their ‘lack of identity’; Gombau’s appointment was to try and implement a consistent, distinctively ‘Adelaide’ style.

To that point, Adelaide have borrowed heavily from Barcelona in many facets of their style of play. Like the Catalan giants, they retain possession wherever possible, always looking for the short pass to a teammates before moving into space, starting attacks in deep positions and working the ball forward from the back. Even certain player roles are identical: like Sergio Busquets, Isaias, the #6, drops in between the two centre-backs to create an extra passing option. The full-backs, like Dani Alves and Jordi Alba, are required to push high and wide when Adelaide have possession.

It is on a broader, more idealistic level, however, that Gombau’s changes are most keenly felt, and where the tenets of their ‘Barcelonification’ is most obvious. Adelaide have now become the competition’s definitive possession side, alongside the ‘original pioneers’ of possession based football in the A-League, Brisbane Roar. Even then, Adelaide were able to comfortably out-pass them when the two sides met back in March. Adelaide lost 2-1, but in an odd, somewhat ridiculous way, that’s almost not the point – rather, it’s about them being able to impart their style upon the opponents, no matter the circumstance. Results matter, of course, but they, in Gombau and Barcelona’s eyes, be a consequence of the performance and the style.

To put it in cliche, it’s not where they get to, it’s how they get there.

Amor’s appointment is an important step in this journey. As Technical Director (having already spent a month working in consultancy with the club), his job will be to oversee the implementation of the ‘Adelaide style’ across the club, particularly the youth sides.

“I have came here to learn and experience this kind of Club, but also bring experience to improve the football department and the club, with the objective to work together with the coaches and football department to bring the best for the Club,” says Amor.

“From what I have seen, it is not a big difference between us and what Barcelona are doing. It is something similar and something I am use to. But I have liked what I’ve seen so far.”

“And what I have seen with the youth, they are working very similar with what the seniors are doing. Michael (Valkanis) is working with us day by day, and the games I have seen, they play very similar and have good players with good potential.”

Amor is a particularly important figurehead when considering his career progression at Barcelona. He was one of the very first graduates of La Masia, the club’s famous youth academy that sees kids – predominantly locals – attend school and train together from a very young age. All players are coached in the same philosophy, with an extraordinary emphasis placed upon technical skills, with the idea being that by the time they ‘graduate’ into the senior squad, they have already spent their developmental years training and playing in the style of the first team.

While a boarding school type setting is not realistically possible in the Australian football landscape, Gombau’s ‘Barcelonification” of Adelaide has still imported many of the key elements that makes their academy so successful. He’s introduced local players such as Jordan Elsey and Awer Mabil into the first team squad, while focusing in the transfer market on bringing in Adelaide-born players like Dylan McGowan. More signficantly, Gombau has overseen the implementation of a similar style of play with the National Youth League side.

Ultimately, the goal seems to be to replicate that consistent pathway across all age-groups into the Adelaide first team. That explains the club’s agreement with Enfield SC to become a feeder team, which unfortunately collapsed amongst opposition from FFSA, as explained in greater depth by Janek Speight here.

Nevertheless, Gombau’s wider purpose and ambition for Adelaide is obvious. The replication of Barcelona’s developmental pathways is an important step towards creating the ‘Adelaide’ identity. Amor knows, too, the value of this consistency, having experienced it first-hand as a player. He then played a pivotal role in re-establishing the ethos as the director of La Masia between 2003-2007 – a time when some of the best players in the history of the game, like Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta all emerged from the club’s academy.

It’s an extraordinary CV, and one that makes his under-the-radar appointment perhaps one of the landmark moments in Adelaide’s history.

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