Coach of the A-Leagues All Stars in 2014, Josep Gombau sits down with KEEPUP’s Sacha Pisani to talk about that Juventus clash ahead of the concept’s reincarnation against LaLiga powerhouse Barcelona.
It’s been eight years since the A-Leagues All Stars last came together.
August 10, 2014 saw the competition’s best – spearheaded by the legendary Alessandro Del Piero – go head-to-head with Italian juggernaut Juventus at Accor Stadium.
That night and the days leading into the blockbuster exhibition still live long in the memory of the last All Stars head coach as the reprisal of the concept pits Dwight Yorke and the A-League’s finest against Xavi’s LaLiga giants Barcelona in Sydney on May 25.
“We made some noise,” former Adelaide United and Western Sydney Wanderers boss Josep Gombau told KEEPUP, recalling the 2014 event.
It’s not just the fact that the All Stars almost beat a Juventus team boasting Gianluigi Buffon, Paul Pogba, Andrea Pirlo, Carlos Tevez, Patrice Evra, Leonardo Bonucci and Claudio Marchisio – Gombau’s squad led 2-1 entering the 87th minute.
But it’s the relationships and friendships formed as a result of the All Stars.
“Even now, I speak with some players that I don’t coach in Adelaide or Western Sydney but just the All Stars. We had a nice experience,” says Gombau, who is now working alongside David Villa as head coach and technical director of Queensboro FC in the USL.
“A few months ago I was on a train in Paris. On the same train comes David Williams. I listen to his voice and I say, I know his voice and it was him.
“We sit down together and we were very happy to see each other. We know each other from the All Stars.”
Gombau added: “For us it was fantastic. We stayed like eight or nine days together, after that we had very good relationships.
“No one realises but when you did something like this, you’re mixing a lot of players from a lot of teams. After that in the next seasons when you’re playing against them, you have this good relationship.”
Preparing to face Europe’s elite
Gombau was voted in as the All Stars coach for the 2014 fixture in his first season with Adelaide.
Prior to the Isuzu UTE A-League’s expansion to 12 teams, all 10 clubs at that point were represented in the squad – Adelaide, Brisbane Roar, Central Coast Mariners, Melbourne City, Melbourne Victory, Newcastle Jets, Sydney FC, Western Sydney, Perth Glory and Wellington Phoenix.
Sydney marquee Del Piero was the headline act and captain of a roster including Mark Birighitti, Eugene Galekovic, Manny Muscat, Jade North, Joshua Rose, Storm Roux, Matt Smith, Michael Thwaite, Ali Abbas, Thomas Broich, Marcelo Carrusca, Gui Finkler, Youssouf Hersi, Nick Montgomery, Albert Riera, Besart Berisha, Bernie Ibini, Tomi Juric and David Williams.
Gombau’s All Stars set up camp in Wollongong before their showdown with Juventus. In preparation, the team faced Australia’s Under-20s in a 0-0 draw. The Spaniard didn’t leave any stone unturned ahead of the big dance in Sydney.
“It was an amazing experience,” said Gombau. “It was something I was so happy and proud because in that moment the people voted for me to be the All Stars coach. I was only in Australia for one year with Adelaide and they took me as a coach.
“Everything was very professional. We prepared very well. We had a camp, close to Central Coast. We made a very nice environment with the players. Everyone was so happy and came with hunger to work well.”
He continued: “We work a lot because for me it was very important to show we play well. You can say what is play well, but for me to play a nice football, attacking football. Make the people enjoy when they come to the stadium. I don’t want to play a game against European team with 11 players behind the ball just defending.
“We did a lot of stuff. I brought a lot of content to them but they enjoyed it. We worked hard. Even the game against the U20s, it brought us a lot of information. When you bring the information to the players, maybe you think they understand but after that when you play, you have a lot of evidence and ways to show them how you want them to play.
“I had this responsibility, not just a football party. I want the people who leave the stadium enjoy first and the second if someone in Italy or Europe is watching the game, we don’t play not to lose but play to win and I think we did it. I was so happy.”
Showcasing the A-Leagues to the world
For Gombau, it wasn’t about the result, rather the performance.
It was never his intention to sit back and snatch a win. He wanted to send the 55,364 fans in attendance home entertained. The same for those watching on TV across the world.
Mission accomplished in his eyes.
Carrusca opened the scoring in the ninth minute following Broich’s sublime throughball before Juve forward Fernando Llorente equalised approaching the hour-mark.
Juric had only been on the field for a matter of seconds when he put the All Stars back in front with 14 minutes remaining.
But Juve replied through Pogba three minutes in the end before Simone Pepe completed the comeback in the 93rd minute.
“We put this kind of football we want to play,” said Gombau. “Our aim was to make an impact, to show around the world in Australia the kind of football we play is a nice football. We did it.
“I think it was nice proof that Australian football was in a good way. We did well and the people enjoyed it.
“Our objective was done. We make noise. It’s not the result but the way we play. It’s a great experience for the players, a great chance for the fans to see European football in Australia.”
The A-Leagues ‘big present’
Like Manchester United and Juventus before them, Barcelona will take on the All Stars, this time in the lead up to the Isuzu UTE A-League Grand Final.
Barca’s visit marks their first ever trip Down Under as Xavi’s star-studded squad grace Australian shores.
“One of the best clubs in the world [are coming to Australia],” Gombau said. “I think people need to realise this and enjoy, players, fans. Go there and enjoy the game or the people who can’t go, watch on TV.
“For the Australian players, the A-League players it’s a big present. It’s a nice way to end the season.”
Gombau knows Barca better than most. He spent six years within the club’s famed La Masia youth system, holding multiple positions.
After leaving Barca in 2009, Gombau eventually joined Adelaide in 2013.
“Barcelona are a unique club. Normally, the people that are involved in clubs say the youth programs and teams should play the same way as the first team. This is what the people believe but it’s totally wrong,” he said.
“The first team should play the same way as the youth because the youth stay there for 12 years. This is something that Barca have very clear. The coaches they select are people who worked before at the club – Guardiola, Xavi, [Ronald] Koeman, Luis Enrique, Johan Cruyff. All were players before.
“When you go in there is a certain way to play football, from the very little team to the first team. The youth make the way. It’s like a system at school – read after you write. Barcelona are like this and not many clubs have this. Clubs are changing the way of play, the philosophy depending on the first-team coach and this is wrong.
“I grow in this environment. The way you play is more important than the result because the result will come after. This takes time and when you do something like this, the certain time to do it and the people working with you need to trust what you’re doing.
“For example now in New York, we have the youth and we play fantastic. You have to have very clear what you want to do. Barca have this identity.
“For me to be part of this system when I was – to understand and to know but not just to know but what you need to do to make it. What exercises you need to do in training to play like this. This is what the people don’t know and try to copy this. I was lucky, I was on the inside and know how to do it.
“When you put these kids and you ask why they are so young and they are performing that well? Because they are used to this. It’s just what you’re doing your whole life just do it on a bigger field.”