A look back at Adelaide United’s mysterious Dutch era

It was just under four years ago when Adelaide United were brought in by a Dutch consortium led by Piet van der Pol. It was a change embraced by Reds fans with an expectation of investment within the football and financial security department.

A few weeks after coming under Dutch owners, the club announced it was cutting tickets and an on-field boost with players following a Round 25 game against Wellington Phoenix. The results speak for themselves, with the Reds having their highest attendance at Coopers Stadium that season.

It was like a breath of fresh air. Fans believed it again. Fast forward nearly four years later, fans have been left frustrated with owner spending and frustrated with the question Who are the owners?

When the Dutch consortium took over, fans saw it as an opportunity to spend on improving the football department. Although the club on the ground has performed admirably, there has not been much expense for the team as once advertised.

The majority of signings over time have been free signings or scholarships. This is something that is not uncommon with other A-League clubs. However, the Reds haven’t had a single player on the marquee list. The exception was Baba Diawara, who was brought in by the previous owners.

Bobô, Miloš Ninkovic and Adam Le Fondre are all players who have been on Sydney FC’s marquee list for the past six years and have been major contributors to Sky Blues’ success over the past six years. Having a big name player could easily have been the difference between the Reds advancing to the grand final and failing in the semi-finals.

It was said that the Dutch owners were looking to improve performance through their existing network in the sport with a focus on international cooperation. In my opinion, the imported players the Reds have brought in over the tenure of ownership have been lackluster.

While COVID-19 might have impacted potential imports, other clubs still managed to bring in decent foreign players. Besides Michael Jakobsen, who was a very good defensive player for the club, former players such as Ken Ilso, Mirko Boland and Jordy Thomassen never lived up to expectations. It remains to be seen whether the Spanish trio of Juande, Javi Lopez and the return of Isaias will bring success to the Reds, but it looks somewhat promising.

(Photo by Will Russell/Getty Images)

The shining light in the owner’s investment in players is that the club bought Riley McGree from Club Brugge for just over $250,000. It was a financial revelation for Adelaide United, with the club selling him for just over $800,000, and they supposedly won quite a few extra clauses after his move to Middlesbrough.

Apart from McGree, however, the club have never really spent the money on bringing in that big foreign player the fans have been clamoring for. The Reds’ owners’ refusal to open the funds left fans greatly frustrated.

The Dutch consortium sought to integrate the Reds into a global football family. To my knowledge, nothing of note has come from this supposed ‘global football family’.

The one major thing that shows the Reds were part of a global football family is Yongbin Chen. Who is it, you are probably asking? Chen was signed in 2019 from sister club Qingdao Red Lions. Apart from three appearances for the youth team and an appearance as a linesman for the Reds’ youth reserve team (no, that’s not a joke), that’s all he brought at the club.

Van Der Pol said Chen would attract Chinese media and give the club a bigger presence in Asia, but that never happened. This global footballing family has been one that the Reds have never really been a part of and which seems like a wasted opportunity from a player development and promotion perspective.

The one thing I’m proud of about this club is how the club have returned to their South Australian roots and respected their club heritage. The club brought back South Australians and inaugural club players Carl Veart and Ross Aloisi in coaching roles, and club legends Bruce Djite and Eugene Galekovic in administration and coaching roles respectively.

The club is going back to its roots and that’s something the fans have appreciated. To what extent this was due to the decisions of the Dutch consortium or the decisions made by people such as CEO Nathan Kosmina could be questioned. But it is an aspect of the duration of the Dutch consortium which, in my opinion, can be considered positive.

The duration of the Dutch consortium as owners began with optimism and hope. Over time, this turned into fan frustration with screams for the owners to open their wallets.

There is no doubt that the club has had a South Australian flavor for the duration of ownership. However, the potential to expand the club and join a footballing family has been a disappointment.

For the sake of the fans, let’s hope the new owners are willing to invest more in the football department and fans will see some big name imports and that elusive second A-League Men’s title.

Sports Grp2

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