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May 7, 2013

Gombau bringing Barca Down Under

Standing alongside Pep Guardiola and Tito Vilanova at Barcelona's youth academy, Josep Gombau learned with certainty that his football education would be of the highest order. Now, having been handed the reins of A-League side Adelaide United, the 36-year-old has the challenge of implementing globally-renowned values a world away.

Gombau spent extensive time as a coach within Barcelona's youth system as a relative youngster, including holding the role of Technical Director at FCB Escola, an official school of the club aimed at teaching children from 6-11 the philosophy and culture of the Blaugrana.

At one stage, with the responsibility of guiding Barcelona's Under-10s, Gombau allowed a former La Liga legend to practice coaching with the aim of obtaining a UEFA Pro Licence. Once the document was procured, Guardiola trained Barcelona B, where Vilanova - the father of one of Gombau's prodigies - would assist him.

Guardiola, of course, went on to win a staggering 14 titles in four years at Barca's helm, before agreeing to join this season's Bundesliga winners and Champions League finalists Bayern Munich for next term. Vilanova, meanwhile, is on the cusp of clinching his first La Liga crown in his first attempt as senior manager.

However, it was to be a very different path for Gombau, who trod the sidelines in such esteemed company a matter of years earlier. Moving from Spain, he gambled on a role with FCB Escola in the United Arab Emirates to spread the Barca gospel. Then, in 2009, an opportunity for his first senior coaching role would present itself at Hong Kong outfit Kitchee Sports Club - otherwise known as Hong Kong Barca.

Regardless of his route to the A-League, Gombau says it is the style of play and creative expression of the team for which Barca is famous that is pivotal to his journey.

"I think that this is the most important," Gombau told ESPN. "For me Spain and Barcelona is like the men that go to the university and study to be good in their job.

"For me Barcelona is the best club in the world. I learnt this philosophy, this skills training, and this is something I have in my knowledge for the rest of my life.

"I believe in this style and it is very important for me to know these skills and that my style is learnt from Barcelona. I am always saying that I've been to the best football university in the world by being at Barcelona."

Without having stepped foot in Australia, Gombau has already set tongues wagging. Some Adelaide supporters remain sceptical about his experience at senior level, while others have applauded the club for looking outside the square in their global search for a successor to interim boss Michael Valkanis.

The Amposta-born coach has also created headlines by suggesting he has been called by at least one former Barcelona star seeking a move to the A-League. After the move of Alessandro Del Piero from Juventus to Sydney FC last year, Gombau says football fans around the world should not be surprised to see other stars from Europe switch to the Antipodes.

"I think that the A-League is a good destination for overseas players because Australia is a very nice country. A lot of people want to enjoy this experience to move and live in Australia. If you are Spanish, you see Australia is a very good place to live, and some players in La Liga, they want to move and have this kind of experience.

"I think this is something we [Adelaide United] can do but the most important thing now is not about whether the players want to come or not, it is important to decide what we need in the team in Adelaide to make it a strong and balanced team, and depending on what we need, we will start to look and maybe find a player that has had experience in La Liga," he explained.

Gombau will travel to Australia in mid-July, once his commitments with Kitchee are complete.

Bringing with him a past brimming with stories of brushes with fame, though, will be no guarantee of success. But experience in Asia and a willingness to test his football ideals in new environments seem to create a solid grounding from which to build.

"I am very happy and excited to start working with Adelaide United," Gombau beams. "For me to move to Australia is an improvement in my career and a big chance to work in one of the best leagues in Asia.

"Before I got my contract with Adelaide I knew a little bit about the A-League. In Hong Kong you can see the games on cable TV and I saw some games.

"I know that Del Piero is playing there... I'm not an expert on the league but I will be working hard to arrive in Adelaide knowing everything I will need to know for the start of the season.

"I think it is important to have worked before in Asia and to come to Australia later because I understand Asian football very well. I also will work to come to Adelaide to put into practise the style that Adelaide United want to make next season.

"I have implemented this philosophy in Hong Kong and it has been successful and I am sure that my four years at Kitchee will help me with my work in Australia."

Whether Gombau can ultimately turn Adelaide into the A-League's Barcelona remains a mystery but, for now, his attitude and outlook on football may at least spark some intense tiki-taka debate Down Under. That can only be a good thing.

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