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.

Juventus Creator Lab: a novel strategy for football media

Over the years Juventus FC has had to endure substantial challenges on and off the field, however, they are making a robust return in the digital space. The club’s digital team is working diligently to establish new, stable revenue sources through the Juventus Creator Lab, initiating partnerships and launching new online platforms.

It is evident that the Italian giants have not been very forthcoming about their vision, strategy, and future plans for the club in recent years.

Considering the pressure they’ve faced after being docked 10 points by the Italian football federation’s appeals court, it’s understandable why they’ve been less communicative. This penalty resulted from an investigation into the club’s transfer activities.

The legal case remains unresolved, as the club maintains they have operated within the rules. Additionally, several executives were banned from football due to their involvement, leading to the appointment of a new executive team to bring stability to Turin.

One of the newer executives at Juventus Football Club is Mike Armstrong, who became Chief Marketing Officer in September 2021. The Canadian leader brings a diverse background in technology, having worked with Google and YouTube, and in advertising, with experience in fast-moving consumer goods brands like Kraft Foods and AB-Inbev, as well as in an esports start-up.

The Juventus Creator Lab is the birthplace of Juventus’ digital products, a fresh creative approach inspired by LA-style creator houses and gaming studios, designed to cater to a global fanbase.

The Juventus Creator Lab is designed to enhance accessibility and foster a closer connection across all areas of Juventus, including the men’s and women’s first teams, Next Gen, legends, esports teams, and even the innovative animated kids’ series dedicated to the younger fanbase, Team Jay.

With a rich background in corporate America, Armstrong objective is where the overarching aim has always been clear ever since he joined: to outpace competitors in growth while simultaneously enhancing profit margins.

This mentality is what Juventus and the entire football industry needs, a defined objective of consistently generating revenue to fund the development of a football team capable of competing with the world’s top clubs.

Armstrong talks about the instability within the industry via an interview for Off The Pitch, which he acknowledges as a fundamental aspect of sports. Success or failure in qualifying for competitions can cause substantial revenue fluctuations.

“For me, this is the approach we need to pursue. Players are always crucial, but they come and go, and their presence can be unpredictable. So, I believe all football clubs need to explore ways to make their business less susceptible to volatility. In my case, along with my colleagues, we confront a reality where players serve as key distribution drivers due to their social media followings,” he explains.

“However, recently, out of necessity, we decided that we had to develop a business model capable of ensuring substantial revenues even when major players departed the club. With this goal in mind, we’ve witnessed a significant transformation in our approach and operations, and we believe we’ve made considerable strides in recent years.”

With an annual revenue of $741 million, Juventus has faced difficulties in their digital operations after the departure of key social media influencers such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Angel Di Maria, Leandro Paredes, and Paul Pogba.

To determine the type of content creator you should become, it’s essential to understand your audience. Armstrong recognised that with 90 percent of Juventus fans living outside Italy and 40 percent of them being under 24 years old, the club needed to significantly rethink their approach.

They have achieved impressive milestones with 60 million followers on Instagram, 30 million on TikTok, and 7.5 million on YouTube. Armstrong mentions that they have exceeded initial expectations, and he anticipates substantial revenue growth from sponsors in the coming years.

A clear indicator of their progress is the addition of 2 billion more video views last season compared to the one before, and an overall increase of 159 percent in video views across their ecosystem over the past two seasons.

Simultaneously, they initiated several partnerships, including one with Celine Dept, a rapidly growing digital sports creator with 43 million followers. Juventus also partnered with 433, one of the world’s leading football communities boasting 115 million followers, and Wave Sports + Entertainment, which has over 130 million followers across its various accounts.

The difficult part for Juventus, as with all other clubs, is making sure they create content that connects with all their fans.

Looking at all this from a football landscape in Australia, it seems too good to be true to have a physical laboratory of where a clubs digital products are born, this would greatly benefit the Isuzu UTE A-League men’s and Liberty A-League women’s to enhance the clubs around the country not only on social media platforms but also both in a traffic and engagement aspect to be seen by global brands.

Hanh Tran: “I have a passion for providing a voice for women in sport”

Hanh Tran is a familiar voice across Football Victoria, having served as the original Series Futsal women’s broadcaster. Hanh has become well intertwined within women’s football across the state.

An advocate for women’s football, she has effectively singlehandedly shone a spotlight upon women’s futsal.

Throughout her established commentary career, Hanh has had broadcast involvement in finals, cup competitions and League matches across both indoor and outdoor women’s and men’s football competitions.

Speaking to Soccerscene, she discussed topics including being a commentator, what her dream is as a commentator, and the changes she would like to see in Australian womens football.

Tell me about yourself as a commentator.

Hanh Tran: I have been commentating on women’s soccer for a little over 5 years.  I first began commentating on woman’s futsal for the Series Futsal Victoria Women’s league, played at Futsal Oz.

At the time the Men’s competition had weekly commentators calling their game and the women’s did not.  I was also a player for the women’s league at the time.

I felt that the woman needed a voice to help boost and build their game, so I then made the initiative to jump on the mic and give commentating a try with the encouragement from owner Peter Parthimos I was in the box commentating my first week after.

In the beginning, it was all voluntary work and was more than happy to provide my time each week as it was something that I loved doing and the players enjoyed watching the game with commentary on it.

In late 2019 Football Victoria held an information seminar for women in media. This opened a huge door for me to help bring my commentating to a new level and provide me with a new challenge.

I was invited to join the Football Victoria commentary team for the upcoming 2020 season of NPL and NPL Women’s.

Unfortunately, due to COVID, I couldn’t make my debut to call the NPLW games that year. Fast forward to 2021 and I have been on the roster for most of this season calling the NPLW games.

I have a passion for providing a voice for women in sport, where at times there has been a male broadcaster calling female games. I feel the industry is in the progression of providing opportunities for diversity.

Growing up, I played every sport that was provided to me and loved being part of the community of sport.

When I watch I hear sports on the TV or radio, I’m so intrigued by the commentators and the way they capture the audience and entertain us in their own unique way when calling the game. I’m always listening out to different techniques and phrases that they use.

I remember watching the Matilda’s vs Vietnam in the Olympic qualifying match and made myself a personal goal to one day commentate a Vietnamese vs Australia football game.

Being from a Vietnamese background, that would be a dream come true. To represent Vietnam, Australia and be the voice for women’s football.

I want to be the pioneer of a Asian background and be a role model for future generation of commentators and media personnel.

What is something with women’s football you’d like to see change?

Hanh Tran: I would love to see more promotion and increasing the exposure of women in the media and to boost diversity in the industry.

I found there was a lack of content to champion and showcase the female players; and most of these outlets were hosted mainly by men.

More games being streamed, especially VPLW. More podcast, reels, panel shows. Pre game and post game interviews.

Advertisement of the players and their clubs, introductory videos of the clubs and teams, similar to USA college basketball and NFL and side line reporters.

What are your thoughts on the Nike Cup competition?

Hanh Tran: Love to see a VPLW team to get to the finals. One of the best quality games we’ve seen in a long time. 2 penalty shoot outs and 3 games going to extra time. They’ve been very close games.

Great exposure to smaller clubs that normally don’t get much limelight. FV have invested time and energy this year to make the cup stand out for the womens game.

Where would you wish to see growth within football in Australia?

Hanh Tran: More investment in the A league and growing the women’s game. So much support goes to the Matilda’s, but then no huge return of money invested in the A league.

Need more growth and international players come to the A-league to grow the game internationally to make it more entertaining.

Similar to what cricket did with the Big bash. Try something fun and exciting to bring in new and young viewers.

90 minutes is a long time to concentrate on a game that is low scoring, something that can bring in new football fans to watch the game.

A more sense of community and excitement, or collaboration with the men’s games, more double headers. The All-Star game was a hit against Arsenal, that will draw in more viewers and spectators.

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