Homegrown Australian Adam Centofanti: From NPL to coaching in MLS

Adam Centofanti Profile

Adam Centofanti’s insight into the contemporary Australian football landscape is unique to say the least. As a player, Centofanti spent time across the Victorian NPL with the likes of Dandenong Thunder and Hume City, learning plenty along the way to apply to his endeavours as a performance/strength and conditioning coach which ran parallel to his playing career.

As a qualified coach, Centofanti’s passion for the game has led him on a coaching journey which has seen him work his way to Major League Soccer side Houston Dynamo, with a stopover at Melbourne City during their transition as the Melbourne Heart into becoming the super club they are today.

Currently, Centofanti’s role as the Head of Academy Strength & Conditioning with the Dynamo sees him predominantly working with the U-23s and U-17s squad, a position that has given him a direct lens onto the league which has produced the likes of RB Leipzig’s Tyler Adams and Manchester City’s Zach Steffen.

To start things off, what drew you to the sports science side of football?

Adam Centofanti: I think the original thing that drew me to the sports science side of the game is just my love for working hard, training hard and the intensity of the game. And as a player – when I was younger – I always wanted to compete at the highest level I could. And to do that I thought the only way was through fitness, so I began to love that side of the game.

Ultimately, as a player, it didn’t work out for whatever reason, but you meet some people along the way and in particular for me, it was a mentor named Loris Bertolacci who got me into the sports science world. [With him] I was able to experience working with athletes and exposure to a professional football team for the first time, Melbourne Heart.

From being at Melbourne Heart and then Melbourne City, how did you end up making your way to the Houston Dynamo?

Adam Centofanti: Obviously I started at Melbourne Heart, but then they became Melbourne City and I was able to get a job as a Community Development Coordinator. So, basically, I would go out and coach kids at schools, which was sort of my foot in the door to getting paid by a professional team. At the same time, I had been volunteering my time for many years to the sports science department of the youth team.

So, it was many long hours, but it was something I knew I had to do. Because it was something where you had to commit to doing what you actually want to do long-term and fortunately, I was given a role at Melbourne City. I then spent a good part of five to six years there plying my trade, and ultimately there was an opportunity [at the Dynamo]. I had a contact at Houston through my current colleague Alex Calder, who is another Australian performance coach, and went through the interview process and got the role that way.

I did notice that there are a lot of Australians that have worked as physios, sports scientists and strength & conditioning coaches overseas over the past few years. Why do you think this area of Australian football is growing so well?

Adam Centofanti: I think across the world Australians are quite respected in the performance side of things. It’s definitely something I noticed when I first got to America, they just thought that Australians must be good at strength and conditioning. Obviously, that’s also down to the people who came before us, the big names of Darren Burgess and Phil Coles, guys that have been in the game for a long time and have set the premise for what Australians are all about.

If you look at the players we’ve produced in our nation in the past, from a conditioning standpoint they were excellent. And they all played in the top divisions. So, we sort of started to earn this reputation of being a fit country who work hard, which makes it positive for people like myself when they do come to an overseas team as you’re respected from the get-go in that regard.

As you mentioned, in addition to working in the sports science area of football you have played the game yourself, representing the likes of Bulleen Lions, Hume City and Dandenong Thunder. What did you learn from playing the game yourself that you have taken into your strength and conditioning work?

Adam Centofanti: The first thing I’ll say is playing the game can’t help you enough in this type of role whether it was at a good or okay level, the experience of playing gives you great insight into what is required physically and mentally to perform. Knowing what it feels like to be a player is important from a communication point of view, but then also now your understanding of the game is better. So, you can apply best practice to drills and you can talk to coaches in a certain way that maybe other people who haven’t played the game.

As well as that, for me, I was always extremely competitive and intense as a player and I’ve become that type of coach, which is sort of a stereotype for a conditioning coach but if you’ve got that edge and drive about you, it does brush off on the players.

Football – and the world today – is completely different to where it was 10, 20 and even 30 years ago. Why has sports science become such a pivotal part of football around the world?

Adam Centofanti: The main thing is the game is obviously faster, the players are fitter and stronger, the style of play has changed as well. We’re seeing a lot more pressing teams, which from an intensity standpoint means it’s gone to another level, meaning that the preparation for these players needs to be at an even higher level to ensure you can keep them on the field [for longer].

As well as this, due to advances in science these types of positions are becoming part of general practice in football clubs. So, now it’s baseline standards to have these people to help the environment. It’s reached a point where now you see performance staff and technical staff collaborating as one team, and it’s not so much a hierarchy where the coach dictates everything.

Centofanti coaching

In terms of working to circumvent injuries, what is the methodology behind that?

Adam Centofanti: In terms of injuries, programs are designed in such a way to address all the potential issues in the gym and on pitch before they happen with the hope that we can get guys to a higher level physically and increase their robustness.

We’re training guys to match the high standards of modern football so that these issues don’t occur. Which is why I think the mentality needs to be – especially with the youth players – get them to a level of conditioning where you can throw a whole lot at them. We’ll do things where we’re testing players physically and mentally to the point where we’re potentially red-lining them, but it’s an important part of development having the body exposed to those kinds of demands. [It means that] when they’re asked to do it in a game, multiple times a week potentially, they can tolerate it.

You obviously spent time working with Melbourne City in the A-League, who have developed into the powerhouse side they are in the A-League today. What was it like being in that environment as its facilities and infrastructure were being built to the standard they are at today?

Adam Centofanti: The Melbourne City experience was absolutely amazing, first and foremost. Seeing the club transform from what I saw at Melbourne Heart days to where it is now is day and night. I remember [at the Heart] doing gym sessions with my ex-colleague Raffaele Napoli on the field with bands and tying them up against a fence because that was the best gym that we could provide. To the point where, just before I left, you’ve got two world class gyms and top-level fields that are hard to come by anywhere in the world.

So, the transformation was remarkable. But I think the biggest thing about the Melbourne City development was that not only did the facilities improve overtime and obviously the team got better, but the technical staff and performance staff were just top-level practitioners. So, that is a club that is not only evolving from a logistical standpoint, but the quality of the individuals they’ve hired to fill certain roles has been exceptional.

What was the transition like between working with Melbourne City and Houston Dynamo?

Adam Centofanti: It was a really interesting experience at the beginning because I was heading into a role that was brand-new. So, it was very much a blank canvas to create processes, new standards, education around how we train and why we train – whereas all that was established already in Melbourne. So, I found early on that it was an educational experience to get my point across about why we do certain things and why this can improve the level of the players.

The best thing about Houston since I’ve been here has been the exceptional buy-in from day one. They’ve been very open to ideas and it does come from the fact that Melbourne City and City Football Group is a respected entity. So, going into it they already respected what I was going to talk about, which made the transition a lot easier in terms of implementing similar ideas that I had done in the past into a new environment with a completely different cohort of players. This was a cohort of players who, unlike in Melbourne, had minimal experience in any sort of hard conditioning or gym. Another major positive I noticed very early was the hunger of the players to work. Coming from a range of backgrounds, football means the absolute world to them, so the players were more than willing to put in the hard work to improve.

The first 6-12 months were about education and exposure to the different types of training that we were going to do for years to come. Fast-forward to now, the players are at a very good level and are able to do everything that I’ve seen players do in the past. So, it’s been a really good evolution in my time here.

APIA Leichhardt FC: 70 years on & still counting

On 18th April, APIA Leichhardt FC – one of the most successful football clubs in Australia – will be celebrating its 70th year with a glamorous gala event at La Montage Function Centre.

The names of the former players who wore the maroon and sky blue colours of the club just roll off the tongue – including Stan Ackerley, Leo Baumgartner, Col Bennett, Arno Bertogna, Archie Blue, George Blues, Fillipo Bottalico, Mark Brown, Rod Brown, Alex Bundalo, Terry Butler, Ricard Campana, Ernie Campbell, Paul Carter, John Doyle, Stan Foster, Johnny Giacometti, Sebastian Giampolo, Joey Gibbs, Terry Greedy, Pat Hughes, Audauto Iglesias, Karl Jaros, Peter Katholos, George Keith, Billy Kerklaan, Lawrie McKinna, Danny McKinnon, Graham McKinnon, David McQuire, Ross Maiorana, Brad Maloney, Jean-Paul de Marigny, Joe Marston, Bruce Morrow, Tony Morsello, David Muir, George Nuttall, Phil O’Connor, Peter Ollerton, Franco Parisi, Tony Pezzano, Mark Pullen, Nick Rizzo, John Roberts, Billy Rogers, Jim Rooney, Bill Rorke, John Russell, Jim Sambrook, Marshall Soper, Darren Stewart, Brian Taylor, Cliff Van Blerk, Jason Van Blerk, Walter Valeri, Willie Wallace, John Watkiss,  Vernon Wentzel, Peter Wilson, Johnny Wong and Charlie Yankos.

The significance of this milestone is not lost on long serving President, Tony Raciti, who has been associated with the club since 1977 and is leading the charge for  APIA’s participation in the National Second Tier Competition commencing in March, 2025.

Although there is a lot of work to be done before next March, Raciti goes about his work with his usual determination to ensure the club is fully prepared for the task ahead.

In this interview with Roger Sleeman, Tony Raciti discusses the significance of APIA’s longevity in Australian football, the state of play for the Club’s National Second Tier effort and conveys his thoughts about all things football in Australia.

 

ROGER SLEEMAN

On the 70th anniversary of the club, what feelings are evoked?

TONY RACITI

The club has shown incredible stability in this time and we’re on target to enjoy another 70 years of prosperity.

The function on 18th April will be recognition of the club’s achievements over the 70 years and the large assembly of former and current players, supporters and sponsors will be a testimony to the continuing success and ambition of the club, particularly with the start of the National Second Tier.

R.S.

Is the original reason for the club’s formation still relevant today?

T.R.

It was originally formed as a sporting social club but obviously football was centre stage.

Today, the social aspect is not so evident as we’re a football club first and foremost providing a focus for the sport in the inner west for thousands of people, including players and supporters.

It’s now a firm fabric in local society.

Although the club has a strong Italian heritage, especially dating back to the 50’s and 60’s, there was also a strong Scottish and English influence which is still prevalent today.

Interestingly, if you examine the data base of registered players at the club, there are roughly 75% of Anglo Saxon and others of non Italian background which confirms we’ve fully integrated into the local community.

R.S.

You’ve been with the club since 1977.

What changes have you seen in this period?

T.R.

The fact we were incurring substantial losses in previous years, despite always meeting our debt, was not ideal. However, we are no longer incurring annual losses but breaking even or making small surpluses.

Lambert Park had never been subsidized by the local council until 2014 when the club was granted a $2.4 million government grant to upgrade the facility, the clubrooms and playing surface.

The club currently has an asset register which exceeds $6 million dollars and fortunately the local council is to provide funds to upgrade our synthetic surface and drainage. They will contribute $1.8 million dollars with the club funding  $500,000.

Fortunately, we’ll be playing at Leichhardt Oval next year in the N.S.T. and we have seven other grounds available in the area as registrations are growing rapidly.

To  meet the demand, we’re hiring school grounds for training  , including Concord High School four nights a week which has been funded by  the junior and women’s section of the club  who have banded together to raise $45,000 for lighting at the school.

R.S

Does Football NSW do enough to support your club and NPL Clubs in general?

T.R.

Unfortunately, the landscape has changed in the last decade or two and the makeup of the board requires more people with a football background.

Currently, there are a number who don’t have the knowledge of football history and club operations.

Nevertheless, Football NSW are a governing body with a strong management structure in a game which is bursting at the seams in N.S.W.

R.S.

Can the National Second Tier be a natural progression from the NPL?

T.R.

Absolutely.

It will support and underpin the A-League and provide advancement for clubs who want to grow further on a national stage.

In recent years, there’s been a deterioration in criteria observed for the NPL so the NST will provide an opportunity for clubs with ambition to achieve a higher position in the game and to evolve further in a much stronger competition with better training and playing facilities.

R.S.

Can the clubs raise sufficient capital to fund their place in the N.S.T.?

T.R.

I’ve been personally impressed with the clubs involved in the process and have no doubt the clubs will be financially stable, particularly with their fund raising activities.

From an APIA standpoint, we’ll be the first sporting club in Australia to be owned by the community via public shareholding.

This process hasn’t been launched yet because we haven’t finalised our prospectus which has to be approved by ASIC.

Initially, we are limited by law to twenty shareholders who have committed $500,000 so we can submit our bank guarantee to the F.A. to play in the N.S.T.

Beyond the approval of the prospectus, we’re confident we can increase our shareholding to 1000 by the end of 2024.

We also have strong corporate sponsorship to the tune of $800,000 per annum and with the move to Leichhardt Oval next year, the 2,500 under cover seats will be sold by end of January, 2025 which will give the club an injection of $1,000,000, adding to other revenue streams.

R.S.

Are all your supporters and sponsors fully behind the N.S.T. ?

T.R.

Very much so and they see the club is well managed with a strong board.

For the past decade, the club has been a powerhouse in first grade as well as juniors, SAP, women’s and girls.

Currently, there are twelve other clubs knocking on the door to be included beyond the initial eight accepted, so this speaks volumes for the interest in the N.S.T.

Obviously, only four of those clubs will be accepted in  the 2025 competition because there can’t be a 20-team League in the first season.

The FA  have been totally co-operative as a governing body which will guarantee the League has direction, stability, and good management, providing better marketing opportunities for the clubs, especially blanket television broadcasting.

Regrettably, in the initial stages there will be no money for the N.S.T. flowing from the broadcast deal.

R.S.

In view of the troubled A-League, will the football public warm to the NST?

T.R.

I believe they will and when promotion and relegation is introduced both Leagues will boom.

With the cost of licences in the A-League, it was premature to introduce promotion and relegation immediately.

Critically, there will be a higher level of competition on view in the NST.

R.S.

Can the A-League overcome its current problems to ensure there is no delay in the start of the NST?

T.R.

The NST will definitely commence next year.

It should be remembered there are thriving clubs like Sydney FC, Wanderers and Melbourne Victory and the remainder are working hard to improve their lot.

I wish I had $15 million to purchase Newcastle Jets because it’s a strong football area.

The purchase of Perth Glory by the Pellegra Group is also a perfect example of the willingness of substantial investors to support the game.

R.S.

Currently NPL playing times vary greatly.

Do you expect there will be uniformity in the NST whereby all games start at 3pm on the weekend?

T.R.

There is only one time to play these matches which should be at 3 or 3.30 pm on a Sunday afternoon.

You’re looking for trouble playing outside these times when you’re playing in winter so APIA will be abiding by these times.

MiniRoos to be supported by four-year investment

Australia’s leading retailer Coles have partnered up with Football Australia as the naming right holders for MiniRoos – the official junior grassroots program of Australian football in a promising acquisition for both parties.

The four-year investment aims to boost participation of the MiniRoos program, while also attempting to support education around young Australians and establishing healthy eating habits from a young age.

The initiative corresponds with Coles’ current commitment to assist Australians in eating and living well on a day to day basis. The grassroots program is created for children ages from as young as four up to 12, ranging from kindergarten to the culmination of primary school. As of 2023, there are over 240,000 active MiniRoos, which caters for all abilities.

The new sponsorship agreement also facilitates Coles and their official partnership with the Subway Socceroos, CommBank Matildas and the men’s and women’s Youth National Football Teams.

The Coles logo will become a prominent feature amongst youth football across the nation. Coaching apparel, MiniRoos equipment and Football Australia school programs are all set to have the notorious red signature writing.

In addition, Coles have also become a presenting partner of the Little Legends Lap across respective international and domestic Australian related football matches and the MiniRoos half-time mini match at senior national team home matches.

Upon the announcement via the Football Australia website, Chief Customer Officer (CCO)  Amanda McVay discussed her pleasure amongst the partnership.

“Coles is delighted to be teaming up with Football Australia in what is a historic partnership for both parties and one we hope will benefit the lives of Australians for many years to come,” she said via Football Australia media release.

It is acknowledged that the supermarket juggernaut have understood the potential Football has within the nation. The CCO also claimed Coles’ commitment:

“Coles is committed to helping Australian families right across the country and is aligned with Football Australia’s ambition to provide more opportunities for Aussie Kids to play football,” she added via media release.

From the perspective of someone in whom aches to see the game grow within their native country, it is intriguing, as it is exciting to see Coles enter the football realm.

Understanding their desire to attribute towards the growth and nourishment of the game, can only guide its vested youth interest into a path of future stability and perhaps prosperity.

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