Alagich's rich rewards
Adelaide United's fruitful AFC Champions League campaign through Asia is doubling as a farewell tour for veteran defender, Richie Alagich.
The 34-year-old will retire from football once the Reds are eliminated from the competition. But the signs are that Alagich will be playing into the knockout stages with Adelaide's unbeaten run leaving them top of Group E.
And Alagich has shone at both ends of the field, coming up with a crucial goal in Matchday 3 that helped the Reds secure a 2-1 victory away to Vietnamese champions, Binh Duong. His header in the 77th minute came after a penetrating run from captain, Travis Dodd. 'I could not think of a better way to finish (my career) than by helping the club get through to the knockout round of the AFC Champions League,' he said.
Alagich and sister, Dianne, a member of the national women's team 'the Matildas', come from one of South Australia's famous football families with brother Colin and father Len stalwarts of local club Port Adelaide. Other famous South Australian bloodlines include the Aloisis - father Rocky and sons, John and Ross - the Vidmars - Tony and Aurelio and three generations of the Kosminas, including current Sydney FC coach, John.
A teammate of Mark Viduka and Craig Moore in Australia's junior teams, Alagich is one of the best defenders never to have been capped at Socceroo level. He also built a club career entirely in his homeland - much of it in South Australia - as many of his peers headed overseas.
His longevity is illustrated by a senior career that began as a 19-year-old in 1993 in the old National Soccer League (NSL). He made 202 appearances in the NSL, 65 in the A-League and passed the 250 mark in all domestic competitions in Round 4 of last season.
Arguably his best days have come into his 30s, earning more than 100 caps with Adelaide United as they made the successful transition from the NSL to the A-League three years ago.
Not surprisingly, Alagich's high profile and love of his home state have been put to good use by local administrators. He's employed by the Football Federation of South Australia (FFSA) to help junior players and develop youth programmes.
His sister, Dianne, is five and a half years younger and also a defender. She's been capped 76 times by Australia, appearing in both the 2003 and 2007 FIFA Women's World Cups. She credits her brother - and their early sibling rivalry growing up in the Adelaide suburb of Woodville - for much of her success and says that it will take time to adjust once her brother hangs up his boots.
'It will be weird watching the A-League and not seeing him out there,' she said. Adding that with her brother giving the game away, she was now contemplating retiring herself. 'It will depend on what we've got coming up and if a national league starts, but sometime in the near future,' she said.
As for Richie Alagich, he can look back on an honest, blue-collar career that included some interesting highlights, including a trip to Brazil for the 2000 FIFA Club World Championship with NSL club, South Melbourne. The tournament featured the likes of Manchester United, Real Madrid and Vasco da Gama, but Alagich's sole appearance came in the 3-1 loss to Mexican champions, Necaxa.
As the A-League began in 2005, Alagich earned the unwanted tag of being the first player sent off, earning a red-card in Adelaide's Round 3 win against Melbourne Victory. But the automatic, one-match suspension was the only game the right full-back missed, playing in 23 matches. He was also voted in the A-League team of the season as the Reds won the inaugural minor premiership.
Last season, Alagich was a reassuring presence in an injury-ridden campaign. Despite being one of the Reds' most reliable performers, he won't be reconsidering his decision to retire, happy to allow a three year contract signed in 2005 to expire at the end of the AFC Champions League campaign. 'I am very comfortable with my decision,' Alagich said.
ESPN Soccernet speaks to both Richie Alagich and his sister, Dianne, as an era in Adelaide and Australian football draws to a close.
Q: Richie, why do you see the AFC Champions League as a good way to bring down the curtain on your long playing career?
A: That's when my contract ends! I could not think of a better way to finish than helping the club get through to the knockout round of the AFC Champions League.
Q: Dianne, what was it like growing up in the family with siblings so dedicated to football?
A: It was great to have Richie as my brother and football mentor. He taught me a lot on how to be professional and I always aspired to be as good as him. He taught me from a young age how to be competitive.
Q: Richie, why did you never make the move overseas during your playing career? Any regrets looking back that you didn't go abroad?
A: My plan when I left for South Melbourne from West Adelaide was that if I could be successful at South then I would try my luck overseas. However, three ankle operations in my time there curtailed that. Having said that, I am still very privileged to have played the game for as long as I have.
Q: Who were some of the best players you had as teammates in the junior Australian teams?
A: The two that come to mind straight away are Mark Viduka and Craig Moore: not just for their obvious outstanding ability, which everyone knows, but also for their leadership qualities and the way they were able to lift the performance of players around them.
Q: Dianne, how should the football world remember Richie's best qualities on the field?
A: Richie contributed to the team in more ways than people would think, working extremely hard behind the play. Sometimes he would blow me away with how much work he would do in a game. He always contributed in attack as well as defence. Also, he was a very tidy player, never giving possession away easily.
Q: Richie, what will you do once you retire? And what's your involvement in national and South Australian football projects for kids?
A: I would love to stay involved in the game in some capacity. I am currently employed by the FFSA and am involved in implementing their Academy programmes. I am a Small Sided Games Ambassador, on behalf of the FFA, and that role involves visiting clubs and associations to pass on information about the roll out and benefits to young players of the Small Sided Games programme, which I think is a fantastic initiative from the FFA.
Q: Any chance you might re-consider your retirement decision if the Reds go deep into the AFC Champions League?
A: No. I am very comfortable with my decision and have gotten everything out of myself that I can.
• Sydney-born Jason Dasey (www.jasondasey.com
) is a host for Soccernet SportsCenter and SportsCenter. He covered the 2006 World Cup and 2007 Asian Cup for ESPN.