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Jan 21, 2010

Time to stand United behind Vidmar

With Prince William on tour in Australia, the Republic debate dominates the morning chit-chat in the latté queue. Well, except in Adelaide, where they're debating another issue that's polarised opinion - whether Aurelio Vidmar should remain in charge of Adelaide United.

The calls for his head come on the back of a string of poor results, which have rooted the club to the foot of the A-League ladder. But this heavy-handed "sack the coach" mindset isn't something new in world football.

The 'Sack Vidmar' saga seems to have been on the agenda since he first took the gig from John Kosmina in 2007. There were calls for his sacking after United missed the finals for the first time in his debut season, and those calls intensified when the Reds performed poorly in the 2007 Asian Champions League, where they finished third in their group.

The naysayers were silenced a season later when Vidmar led United to the A-League Grand Final, which they narrowly lost 1-0 to rivals Melbourne Victory, shortly after Vidmar's men became the first Australian club to reach the final of the Asian Champions League.

Vidmar was the toast of Adelaide. He was handed the keys to the City of Churches, while Football Federation Australia awarded him the Coach of the Year gong. He even landed a contract extension from club CEO Sam Ciccarello for another three seasons. It seemed as though the former Socceroos midfielder could do no wrong.

Then something changed. A few poor results here and there and the naysayers were back, rushing to a bleeding corpse like a bunch of starved hyenas. The Reds' 2009-10 campaign can be best described as poor by their standards. The 3-2 midweek loss at home to Perth Glory means that they've got more chance of Lloyd Owusu scoring a hat-trick than making the finals.

Adelaide have failed to make their presence felt in the top half of the table this season, taking turns with their cellar-dwelling counterparts to hold up the base of the league ladder. Goals have been harder to come by than an eye-catching performance from Adam Hughes (Adelaide average less than a goal a game) and while statistics suggest they've generated plenty of shots, fans seated behind the goals have had more touches of the ball than the opposition goalkeepers.

As a result, Vidmar's men have tasted defeat on ten occasions and drawn eight games - a record only bettered by Wellington Phoenix (ten draws). It's a far cry from where the team - and Vidmar - were some 12 months ago. In a relatively short amount of time, the club has gone from oozing in confidence and showcasing an appealing brand of football to coughing up possession regularly and being disjointed in midfield.

The match against Perth was indicative of their season to date - threatening to promise so much, yet ultimately failing to deliver. Such conditions are ripe for producing knee-jerk reactions; you only have to look at the way Sydney FC handled things in the past when the going got tough. Some may point to a host of injuries and a lack of confidence in the playing group as reasons for this slump. Vidmar's critics, however, believe it's a case of poor man-management, poor recruitment and a lack of tactical nous.

Just like Adelaide's feat of underperformance, Melbourne Victory offered a limp title defence in season 2007/08, missing out on the finals and only producing some half-decent football at season's end. It was easier to find an honest conman than a Victory supporter who didn't want Merrick sacked.

The Victory could have succumbed to public pressure and tossed Merrick out the door, however the club's board opted for an internal review and discovered that additional resources to assist Merrick was what the club needed - not a new manager. The results are there for all to see.

The solution isn't an easy one, but there's no doubt it needs to be one that is well rounded and based on a thorough internal review, not one that focuses on removing the figurehead. It's easy to point the finger at Vidmar, but more often than not the coach may be only one of a host of issues faced by Adelaide, a club that has set the scene for football that can only be described as poor at best.

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