We’ve had Brazilians, Englishman, Italians and Germans.
A Dutch influence fell over the country after Guus Hiddink but now there’s a new nation dominating the A-League.
Players from 67 countries have previously taken the field in Australia, but it’s the Spaniards who are making their presence felt now more than ever before. You only have to look as far as Perth Glory’s Diego Castro, who took out the Johnny Warren Medal for player of the year.
Household names such as David Villa and Luis Garcia both completed stints in the A-League, but it’s six of their lesser known countrymen who could be key to taking out the grand final. And statistics suggest they will be.
Eleven of the 16 Spaniards to ever play in the competition are currently on active club rosters, and Adelaide United’s trio – Isaias, Cirio and Sanchez – will face off against Western Sydney Wanderers’ threesome – Andreu, Dimas and Alberto.
All six players have years of experience in leagues in Spain, which has helped them steer their sides to the final match of the season.
But the Spanish battle won’t be limited to the pitch. On the sideline, Adelaide coach and former Barcelona star Guillermo Amor takes on Australian Tony Popovic and his Spanish assistant Andres Carrasco.
With the championship on the line, here is the supreme influence Spaniards have had this season.
Adelaide United can always rely on Isaias to break the flow of a match when required. The defensive midfielder has the third most tackle wins (47) and effective tackles (76) for the regular season. He will be an important cog when it comes to shut down Brendon Santalab, Mark Bridge and Mitch Nichols.
While the Reds have one primary defensive Spaniard, Tony Popovic has built the spine of his team around the defensive influence of his three. In defence, Dimas has stood out with 33 tackle wins to rank eighth for the regular season, while Andreu and Alberto have also had shifts in the backline.
Elsewhere, another standout is Wellington’s Spaniard, Albert Riera, who is near the top of the list. He was third for tackle attempts (128), fifth for tackle wins (38) and fifth for effective tackles (65).
It’s a bumper finale to the Fox Football Podcast season as Adam Peacock, Simon Hill and Mike Cockerill talk all things A-League while Daniel Garb and David Weiner chat EPL.
Isaias has also been a focal point of the Reds’ ball movement with the third most possessions (1572), pass attempts (1483) and seventh most completed passes (1194) in the regular season. Cirio has been down on form compared to previous seasons, but he stepped up in the semi final with his best display of the campaign.
Andreu and Dimas’ dominance of the midfield has led them to third and fourth for the most completed passes in the league with 1245 and 1206 respectively. Andreu is fifth for possessions (1515) and third for pass attempts (1483).
It’s no surprise Spaniards have been an influential part of the league when it comes to possession. From outside of the top two, Brisbane Roar’s Corona sits on top of that pile, top of the competition’s list for possessions (1793), pass attempts (1714) and completed passes (1401).
Whoever controls the midfield will go a long way to maintaining control of the grand final.
Henrique and Santalab were the famed super-subs of the season, but Pablo Sanchez has made just as much of any impact. He’s come off the bench five times for Adelaide to score – the same amount Santalab did this season. His seven goals have also come economically. Sanchez has the fourth least shots per goal rate (3.6) from his 25 attempts.
But just ahead of him is Andreu. The former Racing Santander player has scored three goals from his 14 shots at a rate of a goal every 3.5 attempts. But his teammate, Alberto has the fourth highest percentage of shots on target (62.5%).
Interestingly, Andreu is the only player to get ball in back of net in Adelaide and Western Sydney’s fixtures this season. In round two he became the second player in the A-League with an own goal and a goal in same game. Tarek Elrich sent the ball to Andreu each time – Elrich’s cross was deflected in for the own goal and his failed clearance went to Andreu to score the goal.
Outside of the grand final combatants, it’s hard to look past Diego Castro for Spanish influence. His 13 strikes for the campaign (fourth highest) and involvement in 45 per cent of Glory’s goals (fifth most) are all the more impressive considering he’s also completed the most through balls (26) while evading 54 tackles (third most). Adelaide’s Cirio comes in at seventh on that list with 33 tackle evasions.
Guillermo Amor engineered Adelaide’s turnaround from eight losses to start the season to top of the table by the end. His willingness to change his game plan mid-match has allowed Adelaide to win contests that they wouldn’t have otherwise. Amor’s experience at Barcelona is rubbing off on his players as they continually move towards a tiki-taka type style.
But the Wanderers assistant, Andres Carrasco, is no stranger to the Catalan club. Carrasco spent 15 years coaching in Barca’s youth academy and worked with Andreu in that period. His rich experience has helped Western Sydney advance to the grand final.
ACTIVE A-LEAGUE SPANIARDS:
Alberto (Western Sydney Wanderers)
Andreu (Western Sydney Wanderers)
Diego Castro (Perth Glory)
Sergio Cirio (Adelaide United)
Corona (Brisbane Roar)
Dimas (Western Sydney Wanderers)
Javier Hervas (Brisbane Roar)
Isaias (Adelaide United)
Albert Riera (Wellington Phoenix)
Alex Rodriguez (Wellington Phoenix)
Pablo Sanchez (Adelaide United)
© 2016 Fox Sports Australia | This article was written by Michael Puterflam and first appeared on Fox Sports Australia on 28 April 2016.