Former flier eyes glorious upset

He may still only be 26, but former Glory man Adrian Zahra is no stranger to football’s often fickle fortunes.

From making his A-League debut in the white-hot atmosphere of the inaugural Melbourne derby to suffering an horrific, career-threatening knee injury and trying his luck in Europe, the winger’s journey in the game has already featured a plethora of twists and turns.

And last week’s Westfield FFA Cup Round of 32 draw duly threw up another as Glory were drawn against the Melburnian’s current club, Victoria NPL outfit Heidelberg United.

 

“Everyone was very excited by the draw,” he said.

“We knew it was going to be a tough draw whoever we played and obviously facing an A-League team is going to be that much more difficult.

“But I think as players we all wanted an A-League club just to see where we’re at as individuals and collectively.

“And it’s great for the club as the game will draw a good crowd and make some money.

“There’s no better time to be playing an A-League team because they will only be in the early stages of their pre-season and won’t have hit their straps.

“But we’re not under any illusions; we know it’s going to be very tough.”

 

Zahra, who joined Heidelberg at the start of the current campaign, has played a key role in driving George Katsakis’ men to the summit of the Victoria NPL table.

And he has been impressed by the overall standard of the local competition.

 

“There’s not a huge difference in standard between the NPL and the A-League,” he claimed.

“It’s pretty physical and the conditions make it a little bit harder to play which is probably why it’s not quite as technical as the A-League.

“The pace and physicality is similar, but because the players aren’t training full-time, they’re definitely not as fit and sharp.

“It’s just those little one-percenters that are missing.”

 

So what can Kenny Lowe and co expect when they head to Olympic Village on August 1st hoping to avoid becoming the victims of a classic ‘Cupset’?

 

“It’s a really nice to place to play,” said Zahra.

“There are renovations going on at the club because a lot of money has been pumped in by the council.

“The dressing rooms are brand new and really good and going forward, things are looking really positive.

“Behind the scenes everyone works tirelessly to make things work and there’s a real family atmosphere here.

“On the field, we tend to mix it up tactically from game to game.

“Teams are coming after us a little bit at the moment and trying to shut us down, so there are times when we look to turn them around in the first 15 minutes and see how they react to that.

“But most times we just try to win the physical battle and then outplay the teams we come up against.

“With me personally, the coach has been varying it up.

“He’s been playing me out wide sometimes, but other times getting me to play as a number ten. “Luckily he has a bit of a luxury at the moment because the squad has a lot of depth.

“We’ve got the best defence and the best attack in the league right now, so we deserve to be where we are.”

 

Since parting company with Valletta FC in December 2014, the hugely-likeable midfielder has been forced to adapt to playing part-time while holding down a day job in the motor auction business.

But he feels that he is in a good place both personally and in terms of his football.

 

“I was at Valletta but even though we ran second, we didn’t make the Champions League qualifiers and ended up in the Europa League which meant the money dried up a little bit,” he explained.

“I had a couple of opportunities to go to Asia, but I reassessed and decided to come home.

“I was a bit homesick because I’d been in Perth for two years and then in Malta and Asia.

“So I came home and it’s been great having the support of family and friends all around.

“I’ve had a few football disappointments in the past, but I’m really enjoying playing again now and I’m having a really good season with Heidelberg.

“I’ve still got aspirations to go back to the next level, although whether I’ll get that opportunity is another scenario.

“But I’m happy with where I’m at football-wise at the moment and I hope we can enjoy some success this year.”

 

And should that success include securing an FFA Cup shock at Glory’s expense, Zahra is hoping it might just serve as a reminder to A-League clubs of what they’re missing.

 

“This game is definitely a great opportunity for all of us who have football aspirations to shine in front of the national tv audience,” he said.

“It’s a chance for us to show that there isn’t much difference between the standard of football in the NPL and the A-League and it’s an occasion that puts everyone in the shop window.”