Physical side represents competitive instincts

So Josep Gombau thought his Adelaide United side were kicked off the park by Newcastle Jets in their final game of 2013. I didn't see it that way.

So Josep Gombau thought his Adelaide United side were kicked off the park by Newcastle Jets in their final game of 2013. Interesting. Having called the game for Fox Sports, I have to be honest. I didn't see it that way.

In some ways, Gombau is starting to adjust to life in the Hyundai A-League. We're hearing less about tika-taka, and more about pragmatism. Heaven forbid, the long ball is now a clearly defined tactic from the Reds.

I'm not sure what they'd think of that at the famed La Masia, where Gombau cut his coaching teeth with the youth of Barcelona FC. Who cares. To me, mixing up his approach seems to be a concession from Gombau that results are important, after all.

If a pass over the top of the opposing fullbacks works for Cirio, or Jeronimo, use it. Jon McKain and Osama Malik are doing just that.

After talking way too much about long-term planning, it finally seems to have dawned on Gombau that this is not a development league. It's the real deal, and his reaction when Bruce Djite scored what proved to be the winner against the Jets suggests he's had his epiphany. Good.

Yet there are still aspects of the Australian game Gombau is struggling to interpret, or embrace. That's unsurprising for two reasons. One, he's never coached here before and, two, he's a young coach short of experience. Which makes his reaction following the match against Newcastle easy to understand. But it doesn't make him right.

Physicality - whether Gombau and his acolytes care to admit it - remains ingrained within our footballing psyche. True enough, there's been a concerted push to coach it out of our players. When I watch so many of our NextGen central defenders shy away from contact situations, it makes me weep.

But every now and then, we see those competitive instincts re-emerge. It's a reminder that for all the tactical and technical advances we've made, a strong physical presence has been crucial to our progress on the international stage. Lose that - as we've started to do - and we throw away our advantage. Which is why I thoroughly enjoyed the game between the Reds and the Jets. Here was a game which, finally, had an edge.

Gombau clearly saw things differently. Before the match, all he'd talked about was how the Jets were going to 'foul, foul, foul' to disrupt the ball players in his team. The way things panned out, the Jets did shade the foul count, but only just (16-13). The yellow card count was even closer (4-3 to the Jets), while it was the Reds who made more tackles (25-19). Taylor Regan's lunge at Marcelo Carrusca was a big talking point, and I'd agree it deserved a red. But the worst tackle of the game came from Carrusca - high and late on Ruben Zadkovich - and should also have been a red.

The game I saw was feisty, ferocious and - yes - at times a bit naughty. But in challenging circumstances referee Chris Beath had a fine match, and his decisions reflected a rap sheet of indiscretions which went both ways.

If you talk to enough players, there's a common refrain. A 10-team competition breeds familiarity, boredom and even contempt. What they miss is the fire in their bellies, the competitive edge. With plenty at stake for both sides that's what we saw at Cooper's Stadium, and after the final whistle I didn't hear one player complaining. Instead that was left to Gombau, who has yet to appreciate that a lot of players, and a lot of fans, still admire brawn as much as brain.

The same applies, believe it or not, in countries like Brazil, Argentina, Italy and Spain. If you think the likes of Sergio Ramos, or Carlos Puyol, or Pepe, or Dante, or Fabrizio Coloccini, or Giorgio Chiellini, don't have a win-at-all-costs mentality, you're kidding yourselves. If you think Carrusca, or Jeronimo, haven't faced worse tackles playing for Estudiantes, think again.

There's no need to villify, or diminish, what we saw at Cooper's Stadium. In a league where apathy remains an ever-present danger, we should celebrate it instead.