Squad break-up to hinder Adelaide charge
They've been through a lot together.
Now the greatest obstacle to Adelaide United's A-League title push seems to be the impending break-up of the squad that made Australian football history by forging a successful path through Asia.
As the Reds prepared to face an ailing Sydney FC in a showpiece fixture at Adelaide Oval on Saturday night, much of the talk centred around the future of accomplished centre-half Sasa Ognenovski, the subject of a concerted bid by Korean club Seongnam Chunma.
United coach Aurelio Vidmar is resigned to losing Ognenovski, and hopes speculation about he, fellow defender Ang Costanzo, holding midfielder Jonas Salley and retiring former captain Michael Valkanis will not de-stabilise the club in the run to the finals.
Vidmar is realistic about the Australian football landscape, where the salary cap, limited budgets and simple geography will consign A-League franchises to be cast as "selling clubs" for the foreseeable future.
"Personally, I think Sasa will go, but you've got to let the clubs negotiate," Vidmar said on Friday.
"There's no point in getting stroppy and worrying about it, because this club's got a pretty good history in terms of letting players get on with their futures and make a good career choice - there's no way this club is going to stop anyone.
"The way the A-League is you can't have the same side for any more than two years.
"If you look at what's happened here in the last couple of years I think 17 or 18 players have left he club for whatever reason.
"As a coach you try to improve the team every year, so if someone is not doing the job for you need to move on.
"Someone like Sasa's going to be extremely hard to replace, but we're probably resigned to the fact he's going to go."
Adelaide have at least one game in hand on the rest of the league, and three on Central Coast, currently leading the Reds by a single point on the table.
But football history is littered with instances of teams that failed to make their extra matches count in a title race, as the pressure of chasing is often too much.
"One thing is having games in hand, the other is actually winning them, so we're that far away from doing that," Vidmar said.
"On the surface it looks great, having a couple of games in hand, but you still need to go out there and get a job done.
"We've got to worry about (on Saturday) night, then we've got a couple of games in really quick succession - then it becomes a matter of how we're going to back up."
Unlike Sydney, who have lost marquee striker John Aloisi to a quad complaint, United should be able to call on a near full squad, with left-back Scott Jamieson recovering well from a corked hip sustained last week in Perth.
About 16,000 tickets have so far been sold for the match, which last season attracted a sell-out crowd of 25,039.