The Irankunda send-off debate: the ‘bigger context’ that triggered red card

The Official Isuzu UTE A-League Podcast team examined Saturday night's incident.

PODCAST VIEW: The Official Isuzu UTE A-League Podcast unpacks an epic Round 3 highlighted by a fiery Original Rivalry in Melbourne.

The Official Isuzu UTE A-League Podcast is back, and available every Monday to review the action from the weekend. Here’s a snapshot of some of the talking points from Round 3, discussed by KEEPUP’s David Weiner, Tom Smithies and David Davutovic.

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The moment you may have missed that foreshadowed Irankunda send-off

It was the most hotly-debated moment from Round 3 in the Isuzu UTE A-League: Nestory Irankunda’s red card earned via two second-half yellow cards in a spiteful Original Rivalry between Melbourne Victory and Adelaide United at AAMI Park.

Adelaide teenager Irankunda received his marching orders for cautions in two separate incidents: the first being a square-off in the centre of the park with Victory midfielder Ryan Teague in the 79th minute, the second being his reaction to the referees not awarding him a free-kick despite repeat bites for possession from Chris Ikonomidis.

Pundits, coaches and players alike have had their say since the incident occurred – and on the Official Isuzu UTE A-League Podcast, opinion was divided on what should have happened at AAMI Park on Saturday night.

“The actual incident that led to the red card – I thought that was a clear foul on Irankunda,” Davutovic said.

“He was very unlucky not to get that foul. His reaction, he shouldn’t have done it, I thought he was stiff, however, to get that second yellow card. I thought the referee could have just had a word to him. By the letter of the law, yes, it probably is a red card.

“I heard Bruce Djite’s comments after the game – and I agree with him: I think players like young Nestory Irankunda really need a little bit more protection.”

Smithies, however, referenced what happened when Irankunda received his first yellow card with little over 10 minutes to play, and his subsequent reaction after fair warning from referee Alex King.

“What happens straight after (the first yellow card) is maybe a good 15-30 seconds of Alex King and (Adelaide captain) Ryan Kitto talking to Irankunda, trying to calm him down,” said Smithies.

“You can see Kitto saying to Irankunda: ‘Listen to him’. They were trying to calm him down and manage the situation – that was the 79th minute. Irankunda doesn’t stop. Over the next 10 minutes he keeps going, he’s charging at everybody, he’s talking at everybody.

“The bigger context to all this is we had the referee’s boss (Football Australia head of referees Nathan Magill) come in and talk to us, they talked to a lot of people at the start of the season, and yes they talked about protecting players from dangerous tackles, but they also talked about cracking down on dissent.

“Irankunda, when King initially gives him the yellow card, Irankunda puts his hand on his arm, just for a second – all that stuff Irankunda has got to learn not to do… he’s got to learn to separate from his emotions because if he goes to Europe, which he will do because he’s such a phenomenal talent, people will identify that’s a weakness in him and will be in his ear. 

“He’s got to learn not to react. The fact is, he was given opportunities to calm down and he didn’t, and turned around and did something that was not in isolation, which is my point.

“In that one moment, you can say maybe King could have said: ‘calm down’ – but he had been saying calm down for quite a while – and Irankunda didn’t.”

Olyroos on the agenda for flying Victory forward keeping stars on the bench

On Saturday night, Melbourne Victory forward Nishan Velupillay was busy keeping his magnificent start to the 2023-24 Isuzu UTE A-League season on a roll.

Two days later, the 22-year-old was named among a strong Olyroos squad for a pair of November friendlies, as the national team’s hopes of excelling at next year’s AFC U23 Asian Cup, and qualifying for the 2024 Olympic Games, come into sharper focus.

His selection in the squad continues a dream start to the 2023-24 season for Velupillay, who scored in a 5-3 win over Newcastle Jets in Round 2 before signing a contract extension with his boyhood club.

On this week’s episode of the Official Isuzu UTE A-League podcast, KEEPUP’s David Davutovic suggested Velupillay’s selection under Olyroos head coach Tony Vidmar for the Maurice Revello Tournament in June was the catalyst for his form in navy blue and white.

“Nishan Velupillay, it’s another deserved selection for him after a fantastic start to the A-League season,” Davutovic said.

“A real turning point for him… was getting selected in one of these squads in pre-season. The mail out of Victory is that he came back a different player, and that just really helped with his confidence.

“It will be good to see him in (the Olyroos squad), and the way he’s going at the moment, he’s absolutely in the calculations for a first XI spot … it will be interesting to see which way Olyroos head coach Tony Vidmar goes.”

The Olyroos take on Qatar on Friday, 17 November and Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, 21 November at the Prince Saud Bin Jalawi Stadium in Khobar, Saudi Arabia.

Davutovic expects Macarthur’s Jake Hollman to be another player who will feature prominently across the two friendlies; the 22-year-old has impressed throughout the early stages of the season in a Bulls outfit enjoying their equal-best start to an A-League Men campaign in 2023-24, under a head coach in Mile Sterjovski giving youth a chance.

“What a great opportunity for the Macarthur squad, and particularly some of the younger players,” Davutovic said.

“Jake Hollman was again outstanding (in a 1-0 win over Western United) over the weekend. Just a guy who is really exciting to watch; he gets the ball, pins his ears back and takes players on. He’s able to beat people one-on-one. I love watching him play.”

Three rounds in, two internationals are showing their pedigree

A pair of classy overseas recruits have sparkled through the opening rounds of their respective debut seasons Down Under.

At Melbourne City there is Tolgay Arslan, a product of Borussia Dortmund who just last season was playing significant minutes in the Italian top flight with Udinese. At Victory, meanwhile, there is ex-Napoli and Marseille attacker Zinedine Machach. Both players are catching the eye with supreme form early in the A-League Men season.

Arslan was the architect of City’s sealing goal in a 2-0 win over Sydney FC on Friday night.

When collecting the ball with his back to goal in midfield, his body language convinced a pair of Sky Blues defenders that he would take the ball in his control and feed it back where it came from; as they both closed in, Arslan quickly opened his body to face forward, whipping a no-look pass into the space vacated by Sydney right-back Rhyan Grant and sending Marin Jakolis into acres of free space for a simple pass for a Jamie Maclaren tap-in.

Arslan has a goal and an assist through two games this season; the 33-year-old missed Round 2’s 6-0 loss to Adelaide United, with Paramount+ pitch-side reporter Michael Zappone revealing on Friday night that Arslan is battling through a broken toe. The injury did not stop him from making his mark against Sydney.

“Literally the moment the commentary team said: ‘If Sydney FC can hold Melbourne then – oh, hang on a minute!’ Then (Jakolis) was played in behind, 2-0 up, Sydney FC in all sorts,” Weiner said.

“A moment of his match-winning quality. He has shown he’s got immense pedigree – and the good news is he is the star of A-Leagues All Access this week, so we get a very early glimpse into getting to understand a player who has come from Serie A with huge pedigree and has landed in our league, and is going to be a joy to watch over the next couple of months.”

“In (two) games plus the Australia Cup I’ve loved watching him,” Smithies added.

“It is those no-look passes, and the ability to find the chink in any team’s armour and get through it with those beautiful balls. It was a classic Melbourne City goal. That overlap, draw a team to one side, overlap on the other, play the pass through. 

“It showed a little bit that City are back to the muscle memory they had under Patrick Kisnorbo, which is a very encouraging sign for them.”

Machach has been having a similar impact at Victory. A goal of the season contender in Round 1, and a creative assist for Bruno Fornaroli’s strike in a 1-1 draw with Adelaide United, the Frenchman’s strength and creative flair have stood out through the opening weeks of the new campaign.

“Machach, the bulldozer was back at it again!” Said Davutovic.

“What a fantastic player to watch for young Australian players, because I think physicality has gone out of our game a little bit from a youth development viewpoint – but when you look at the importance of using your body as a footballer, you need to look no further than Machach, and even Fornaroli who is very clever with the way he wriggles around, uses his body and keeps defenders at bay.”

“He’s got everything,” replied Smithies. “He’s got pace and close control, but to (Davutovic’s) point, teriffic power as well. 

“He can run through defenders or run around them, and he’s done it more than once now. He’s a guy who seems to thrive on the big occasion, you give him the ball and he wants to run at players – but he makes smart choices. He set up that goal with such a clever cut-back. 

“It was a terrific run, and so many players would just drive the ball across or even dink it across but he pulls it back deliberately for Fornaroli who meets it so sweetly. What a goal, it was a jump-out-of-your-chair moment.”

The ‘curious’ case of Oskar Zawada & a Glory striker looking ‘as happy as I’ve seen’

Three rounds into the season, the spearheads on either side of the Distance Derby are showing potential to excel in the 2023-24 campaign.

Wellington Phoenix striker Oskar Zawada scored a hat-trick in his side’s 5-2 win over Brisbane Roar in Round 3, taking his total goals tally in the A-League Men to 19 after just 29 games. Remarkably, it was the first time he’d ever scored more than one goal in a league game for the ‘Nix.

With four goals in three games to start the new season, the towering Polish striker is looking primed for a big season in yellow and black as the Phoenix transition terrifically from former head coach Ufuk Talay’s stewardship to the Giancarlo Italiano era.

“He’s a really curious player,” Davutovic said of Zawada.

“He’s 27, this stint at Wellington is clearly his most prolific from any of his clubs, he’s played a lot of his football in Poland, he came through the German system at Wolfsburg.

He’s clearly enjoying his football and enjoying his time at Wellington… if Wellington can hang onto him, he’s the kind of guy that can take them really far.”

Zawada’s goals have helped the Phoenix up into third after three Rounds. With Wellington’s Liberty A-League side also in third spot, the club is currently leading the Club Championship – an end-of-season award given to the club that accrues the most points across both the A-League Men and Women.

On the men’s side of things, two wins and a draw from three games is a tremendous start for a team transitioning between head coaches in the off-season.

“The way Wellington have segued from the Talay era to the Italiano era is terrific,” Smithies said. 

“Nobody would have picked them to start the way they have. To score five goals (against Brisbane), that’s a really good thing in terms of if the Wellington faithful were a bit uncertain, they’ve got to go and watch – because they are scoring goals and playing nice football.”

More than 5,000 kilometres to the West of Wellington, a striker in purple and orange is quietly providing early promise for what’s to come. Adam Taggart has two goals in three games – and might have had a third if not for Wellington keeper’s penalty save in a Round 2 meeting between the two clubs.

Taggart scored and assisted in Glory’s 2-0 win over Champions Central Coast Mariners in Perth on Saturday night.

“So many positives to take out of that one for Perth Glory,” Davutovic said.

“Adam Taggart I think is a massive positive for them. The way he’s come out of the blocks this year – he hasn’t been super prolific but a couple of goals, a fantastic finish on the weekend and an assist for Stefan Colakovski as well.”