24/05/2024

Ryan Kitto in action for Adelaide United, a club that he has represented over 100 times in his career (Image: Adelaide United)

Ryan Kitto is just another unremarkable A Leagues player on the surface level.

An Adelaide boy playing in his hometown, finding himself in and out of the lineup for years. When you look at what he has had to overcome to make it to the stable position he finds himself in today, you get to appreciate Ryan Kitto’s football journey.

Kitto has fought his whole career to make it as a professional footballer. Be it competing against teammates for selection and against coach and fan criticism, Kitto’s determination and perseverance have finally helped him etch a spot as a consistent starter for Carl Veart’s Adelaide United where he has made the left-back position his own.

It is no secret that Kitto has been a Red for a while, but it may shock even the most passionate Adelaide United fan to find out that he was in the matchday squad of one of Josep Gombau’s defining moments as a coach. Despite being an outsider, a few months into the job and amid an eight-game winless run, Gombau got the vote of confidence of the Red Army while his Reds obliterated the Mariners in an emphatic 4-0 win, never to look back, with the Cub almost transforming into winning ways overnight.

The Red Army with a banner of support for under-fire coach Josep Gombau on the 14th December 2013, Ryan Kitto was an unused sub on the day (Image: MyFootball.com.au)

Unfortunately for Kitto’s formative football years, the Reds possessed a vast amount of quality and experience, combined with a coach that was heavily invested in his imports and style of play, which meant that opportunities remained limited. Kitto left the Reds for his former NPL SA Club, West Torrens Birkalla, and after a strong 2015 Season, where he recorded 15 goals, the Newcastle Jets came knocking with another chance at Australia’s top competition.

Kitto impressed during his time as a Jet and was heralded as a player to look out for, especially gaining notoriety after recording a hat-trick of assists in a 4-2 win against F3 Derby rivals Central Coast Mariners. Meanwhile in South Australia, Adelaide United had won its maiden Championship and after a squad clear-out, it was desperate for reinforcements. When Kitto got the call from home, it was one he could not refuse.

Kitto’s comeback season for the Reds was not noteworthy, with Adelaide United suffering a serious Championship hangover and finishing second to last, only a point ahead of Kitto’s previous employer, the Newcastle Jets. It was his second season back in Adelaide that had pundits like Mark Bosnich describing him as, “one of the best talents in the whole league.”

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Season 2017/18 was Kitto’s best in the A-League Men competition, starting 16 of his 25 games and contributing with seven goals and four assists, while also collecting the Club’s Golden Boot award at the end of the season. Despite the promise that was 2017/18, Kitto endured a couple of frustrating seasons in the periphery of the team, with competition on the wing being intense.

Being unable to cement a spot on the wing, Kitto filled in as a left-back and the learning curve was sharp. Fans, already skeptical over the benefit of keeping a career squad player in the Red’s team, became far less impressed with the make-shift defender’s growing pains as a full-back.

The negativity was only amplified after a mistake against Perth Glory in Season 2019/20 which led to Kitto being lambasted in a press conference by coach Gertjan Verbeek. After subbing Kitto off at halftime, Verbeek bemoaned his player’s performance stating, “The mistakes are personal, and when players make them too often, they show me that they’re not good enough for the A-league”.

“That’s why I subbed Kitto.” continued the frustrated coach. “It’s hard for him, but he wasn’t making one mistake, after that he was making many mistakes, and he got changed. For next season we have to see if he can make it. But that’s for next season. This season we have to do it with this squad, and up until now I’m not happy with what I’m seeing.”

Verbeek was ruthless in his commentary, but his departure did not benefit Kitto initially. Even after the Dutchman was long gone, new head coach Carl Veart seemed to prefer Noah Smith and Josh Cavallo in the left-back position over Kitto, and with the wings still stacked, his starting XI prospects seemed as bleak as ever and arguments about his spot in the squad ongoing.

Season 2021/22 changed everything for Kitto, who despite finishing off the previous season by starting both of Adelaide’s finals matches as a replacement for the injured Craig Goodwin, once again found himself on the bench once the Socceroo returned a few matches into the new campaign. As one door closed for Kitto, another was left ajar.

Despite Josh Cavallo’s ability to contribute offensively from left-back, his defensive lapses cost the Reds, and after a winless start to the season and a few costly errors from the midfielder-turned full-back, Kitto was given another opportunity in the starting XI, one that he was not about to let go easily.

In his first game back as a starter, Kitto excelled in his role both defensively and offensively, helping keep a clean sheet against the Wellington Phoenix while also creating chances galore going forward, even recording an assist. Kitto’s well-rounded game continued week after week, eventually making him one of the first names on the team sheet which ensured he started every A-League Men’s game for the rest of the season on the pitch.

Fans stopped viewing Kitto as a liability and began trusting him as the undisputed starting left-back. The trust was felt by coach Carl Veart who even named Kitto as vice-captain in his most stable season yet, starting 24 of his 27 matches played and even earning his side a home final with a stunning strike against eventual Champions Western United in the final round of the regular season.

When speaking of his 2021/22 campaign, Kitto stated, “I think I’m just enjoying it. It comes down to the environment I am in, I love my teammates, I love my coaches, and it’s probably the happiest I’ve been playing football for a long time.”

Kitto has overcome the naysayers, and after multiple years of knocking down the door with little success and multiple setbacks along the way, he has made a spot for himself in Adelaide United’s starting XI.

Even Kitto’s biggest critics have had to eat humble pie in Season 2021/22 and despite what has been said by fans and coaches alike, his resilience and perseverance have to be commended, with the left-back being a great example of a footballer that has fought to get the most out of his football career despite the bumps along the way.

At just 27 years of age, Kitto can make the left-back spot his own for years to come and when you stack up his career it reads pretty well for the one-time whipping boy. Over 100 appearances for the Reds, playing in crucial finals, multiple FFA Cups, a Golden Boot, and a leadership role, not bad for a player that once had to leave the same club for an opportunity!

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