Article
Melta relishes opportunity at Adelaide United
9:37 PM Fri 15th Feb, 2013 - Admin
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Despite an illustrious playing career at the height of Australian football, there remains a burning desire for South Australian football icon Sergio Melta to conquer another facet of the game - coaching.

While he never played overseas like several Australian football stars, Melta is recognised as one of the country's greatest ever midfielders.

Melta, who was crowned the National Soccer League's best player in 1984, won three NSL titles and two national cups with Adelaide City, and ranks fifth on the all-time list of national league appearances with a staggering 445.

He also represented the Qantas Socceroos and has a medal named in his honour which is awarded to the South Australian Premier League's player of the year.

But while Melta has a decorated resume, a coaching role at the elite level is absent from it.

An assistant stint at Adelaide City is the only prominent position the 58-year-old has held - alongside head coaching spells with South Australian grassroots clubs Cumberland United and West Torrens Birkalla - since his retirement in 1995.

It's an anomaly considering Melta is one of the select few in Australia to hold a UEFA A Coaching Licence and gain coaching certification with the English FA.

So when the opportunity to coach in the Hyundai A-League arose in the form of a vacant assistant role at Adelaide United, the Australian Football Hall of Fame inductee wasted little time in putting his name forward.

Adelaide were in limbo following the shock resignation of coach John Kosmina in late January and promoted his right-hand man and the club's youth team coach Michael Valkanis on an interim basis.

Melta saw it as the right moment to possibly kick-start his coaching career, but more importantly help his beloved hometown club, who were frail and on the hunt for an experienced head to assist the rookie Valkanis.

"I just put up my hand and said I'd be more than happy to help out if they think I'm worthy enough to fill the gap, and lucky enough for me they followed through with it," Melta said.

"I've always wanted to be a part of United and the first team as such.

"I've always got aspirations of doing bigger and better things with my coaching so that was the main drive to approach them."

Although the appointment is only until the end of the season, it's the break Melta needs after numerous knockbacks.

After his tenures with Adelaide City and Cumberland, during which time he studied to acquire his qualifications, Melta moved abroad to England in 2006 in pursuit of further education and coaching opportunities.

Melta also switched gears upon arriving in London by turning to another of his passions in hairdressing and working for global salon business Toni and Guy.

However, he remained focused on trying to crack the European market for a coaching gig.

"Purely and simply, it (the move to London) was for football, to try and further my career and credentials," Melta said.

"But it was pretty much a closed shop over there. You had to really have some sort of history with the FA as a player to have any sort of credibility.

"The only position that was offered to me was at Cardiff City Under-10s, which was not what I was looking for.

"Even though I didn't get into any coaching roles, I was able to do a lot of other coaching courses and I met some high-profile coaches like Stuart Pearce (England U-21 manager).

"Sometimes it's not only the education you get out of a course, but also the networking and contacts which can really help you out."

Armed with an array of advanced credentials, and a deeper knowledge and experience of football's most high-pressure job, Melta returned home to Adelaide in 2010 eager to knock on the doors of any A-League clubs willing to listen and hire him in any capacity.

But no one answered.

This gave Melta time to take a step back from the game to examine and pick apart what it would take to land the coaching job he was driven to obtain.

He also reflected on his playing days and compared the now-defunct NSL with its modernised and remodelled replacement.

"There's a vast difference between then and now. Now is obviously more professional," Melta says of the main differences between the NSL and the A-League.

"When I was playing you had to work plus play football. For A-League players all they do is play football, which in turn turns out for a better league and better players.

"The game is also played at a different rate, a different tempo and the training facilities the players have now are completely different to what we had - they are much better."

Melta said he could not fault the league but he misses the physicality of its predecessor.

"I'd like to see it become a little bit more physical, not doing things outside the rules of the game, but having a little bit more body contact," he said.

"With the game now, the body contact seems to be reducing every year."

With time no longer on his side given his new role with United, Melta can now enjoy examining and picking apart the Reds and opposition teams from an A-League bench.

The Adelaide City legend's foray into coaching has already been fast-tracked given he was thrust into the managerial hot seat last Friday in Adelaide's passionate 1-0 win over Melbourne Victory following the first-half dismissal of Valkanis for remonstrating with the officials.

Valkanis is banned for his side's clash with Sydney FC this Saturday leaving Melta in charge barely 11 days after being appointed assistant coach.

But a composed Melta is not overawed by what is arguably one of the biggest moments of his career.

"I'm not that nervous about it ... I'm really excited for sure," Melta said.

"I think if you get too wrapped up in the whole occasion that's not going to be good for the players. The players want to see you have clear directives.

"I say now I'll be OK, but talk to me five minutes before the game and it might be a different story.

"You've got a football stadium with 30,000-40,000 people, and as a player in Australia, I never played with so many supporters.

"Sydney also has (Alessandro) Del Piero and it's always nice to be involved with a player of that calibre."

Melta has no concerns about being thrown in the deep end, suggesting he and Valkanis had prepared meticulously for Saturday's contest.

"We are very thorough in the way we prepare not only ourselves but the team on what they're expectations, roles and responsibilities are," Melta said.

"Even if Michael is in the grandstand ... the team will be pretty organised and I'll really only be there to enforce what training was about throughout the week."

With longevity a hallmark of Melta's remarkable playing career, the former Qantas Socceroo hopes to emulate his on-field success with a long and storied history from the technical area.

The desire to replicate his playing success as a manager burns brightly for an ambitious Melta.

"I definitely would like to coach an A-League team," Melta said.

"But I think coming from my playing days and seeing what they do now, it'd be nice to have an intro into it, because it's important to get to know exactly what players and clubs expect at that level.

"Hopefully I can be involved in some shape or form firstly here at United. If I can still stay with the senior squad it will be fantastic, but the youth team would be good too ... something like that would be a nice stepping stone.

"I'm a person who has goals and ambitions and I'd like to go as far as I can really."
Source: FFA
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South Adelaide Panthers Football Club
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