As Aurelio Vidmar, coach of Australia's Adelaide United, contemplates the strong possibility of a place in both the AFC Champions League final and the FIFA Club World Cup, he has probably had little time to reflect on what a remarkable journey it has been, both for the club and for himself.
Adelaide contest the second leg of their Champions League semi-final against Bunyodkor of Uzbekistan on Wednesday. With the Reds holding a 3-0 lead from the first leg, Vidmar has every reason to be confident, but, of course, he is taking nothing for granted. "We saw enough of them in the first leg to know that they're a very good side, and capable of scoring plenty of goals," he told FIFA.com in a recent exclusive interview. "We've seen the goals against Saipa [Bunyodkor's quarter-final opponents], and we also know that whenever they go forward, the crowd get right behind them."
Vidmar came into the hot seat at Adelaide in turbulent circumstances. After Adelaide's disastrous 6-0 defeat in the 2007 A-League grand final, and the subsequent departure of experienced, charismatic coach John Kosmina, his assistant Vidmar stepped straight into his first senior coaching role...just before Adelaide's 2007 AFC Champions League campaign. "It was a good grounding, to be thrown in at international level first," Vidmar reflects. "Because I had no time to think about it, I just had to hit the ground running!"
Vidmar had learnt plenty of lessons from his former master, however. "In terms of man-management, Kossie was brilliant," Vidmar recalls. "He showed me that it's always important to keep talking to players, to make that an ongoing thing. You have to get a feel for what they're thinking."
Although Adelaide performed creditably in their first Asian campaign, they failed to reach the knockout stages. This year, however, they have made the most of their experience to cause one shock after another. "The first year is always a bit of an unknown," explains Vidmar. "We went to all these countries we didn't know much about, and we were a bit apprehensive. But after that, the players realized that there were only 11 other guys on the park, albeit very good ones, and that it didn't make much of a difference if they were tuned in to the game."
Adelaide have not been over-awed this time. Disposing of Japanese giants Kashima Antlers 2-1 on aggregate in the quarter-final was impressive enough, but few expected the 3-0 triumph over cashed-up Bunyodkor, with Brazilian legend Rivaldo in their ranks, in the semi-final first leg. "," says Vidmar, who adds that the necessity to continue their A-League struggle at the same time has kept the team from becoming too self-satisfied. "It's hard to play on two fronts, and we haven't had too much time to dwell on it, to get excited."
A former star striker for Australia's Socceroos, Vidmar has gained a reputation as a coaching star in a remarkably short time. Where does he see his managerial career heading from here? "I'm only into my second year as a senior coach, so I'd love to be here for many more years to come. I'm very passionate about the game and the job, and I'm sure I'll make some mistakes along the way, but I'll learn from them."