A-League's new Spanish flavour: recipe for success?

You'd recall David Villa in the Hyundai A-League and Brisbane's Corona looks a fabulous buy, but did you know a former Real Madrid keeper once played in Australia? @AndyHowe_statto examines the history of Spanish players in Australia.

It's almost a Spanish revolution in the Hyundai A-League as personnel from the 2010 FIFA World Cup-winning country play a significant part in the 2015/16 season.

The current season sees 11 players from Spain, plus Spanish coaches, and another Australian coach with over 150 La Liga games experience on the A-League stage.

Remarkably it took three and a half decades from the start of the Australian national league in 1977 for the first Spanish player to take the field, when former Malaga junior Dani Sanchez turned out for the Wellington Phoenix at the start of the 2011/12 season.

Little-known Ubay Luzardo was the second A-League player from Spain, making a handful of appearances for Melbourne Victory late in 2011/12.

But the real Spanish surge started in 2013 in Adelaide, when coach Josep Gombau along with fellow countrymen Sergio Cirio and Isaias joined the Reds.

 

Sergio Cirio, Josep Gombau

With a strong Barcelona influence in the coaching department Gombau and co set about transforming Adelaide United's playing style and winning record, after some lean years for the A-League's inaugural Premiers. 

With the addition of Pablo Sanchez and Miguel Palanca, Adelaide took out the Westfield FFA Cup title in 2014 and finished the 2014/15 A-League season close to the top.

There were a handful of players from Spain at other A-League clubs around this time, including Wellington's Albert Riera (joined 2013) and Alex Rodriguez (2014), and a short and well publicised guest stint from 2010 World Cup winning player David Villa for Melbourne City early in the 2014/15 season.

Gombau's sudden departure in mid-2015 did not reduce the Spanish coaching influence at Adelaide United as his predecessor was Guillermo Amor, a more prominent Spaniard. 

Amor had European Cup and Spanish Primera Division honours from his playing career at Barcelona in the 1990s.

The Wanderers joined the Spanish party in the 2015 off-season, signing players Alberto, Andreu and Dimas along with assistant coach Andres Carrasco.

 

Dimas Delgado (Western Sydney Wanderers FC)

Brisbane Roar has also tasted Spanish flavour with Corona and Javi Hervas signing on for 2015/16, while new Roar coach John Aloisi has a load of experience playing in Spain, with Osasuna and Alaves.

And of course Perth Glory have Spanish attacker Diego Castro, who scored 43 goals in 226 games across eight seasons in La Liga, on their books. The 33-year-old being instrumental in seeing his new side into their second Westfield FFA Cup Final on Tuesday night.

With players from around 60 different countries playing in the old National Soccer League (1977–2004), including 30 European nations, it seems surprising that no Spaniard played in the Australian league until 2011.

The most prominent Spanish player in Australia before national league days was Adauto Iglesias, who played for APIA Leichhardt in the NSW state league in the early 1960s. 

Before coming to Sydney the goalkeeper played over 100 matches in Spain's top tier, mostly with Celta Viga but with a handful of appearances for the mighty Real Madrid. 

Iglesias actually played a match for the Australian national team, against Everton in 1964 - the same year he assisted APIA to the NSW Premiership and Grand Final double.

It's difficult to find a record of any other semi-prominent Spanish player to have played in Australia.

The lack of connection between Australian and Spanish football is also apparent in the opposite direction, with only three Australians appearing at the top level in Spain. Aurelio Vidmar (1996–1998), John Aloisi (2001–2007) and Mat Ryan (2015–).

 

John Aloisi

While a handful of other Aussies such as Andrew Bernal, Kosta Salapasidis and David Carney have spent some time in Spain's lower divisions since the mid-1980s, La Liga falls well behind the top tiers of England, Germany and Italy in terms of the number Australians who made league appearances there.

And at the national team level, not much history exists between the two countries either. 

The two senior mens' teams only met for the first time at the 2014 FIFA World Cup, albeit confrontations at men's Under 17 (1995) and Under 20 (2011) World Cups and the 1996 Olympic Games provides a little more history between the nations.

 

Socceroos v Spain

The relative disconnect between Spain and Australia historically probably stems from the association the Spanish have with other parts of the world, drawing Spain's footballers and general emigre population to those countries where Spanish is widely spoken (including Spain's many former colonies) rather than Australia. 

The Spain-born population currently numbers a mere 13,000 or 0.05% of the total Australian population, peaking at just 16,000 Spain-born in the mid-1980s. 

Compare this to the number of Australians born in Italy (260,000 in the mid-1980s), Greece (137,000) and the former Yugoslav counties (150,000), whose migrant waves to Australia after the destruction of World War 2 were much more prominent than the Spanish migration flows, despite Spain's similar turbulent times back then.

The sudden prominence of Spanish football players and coaches in the A-League is timely, given the success of Spain's national team, and its two biggest clubs Barcelona and Real Madrid, in recent years. 

The attractive and relatively successful Spanish style of play can only be a positive, albeit belated, influence to an Australian style that has morphed over the past few decades with influences from many other parts of the world.

It will be fascinating to see how having so many Spanish players and coaches to now watch and learn from plays out in the Hyundai A-League.

Follow Andrew Howe’s Aussie football stats updates on Twitter @AndyHowe_statto