Gold Stars and Red Cards – Wanderers Season 2019/20

A-League 2019/20 Season – finished 9th (probably)

Welcome to this season’s ⭐Gold Stars and 🔴Red Cards. I haven’t written one of these in a while but thought I could pen a final one for this season. Below might be a bit haphazard and possibly contain rants, but it only reflects my opinion on yet another disappointing season we all had to endure as fans of this club.

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Good Recruitment, on Paper
This seems to be the curse of this club for so long. On paper we had a decent squad. A bunch of seasoned vets from the Bundesliga, a few fringe Socceroos, returning Aussie prodigies, homegrown talent from the academy. On paper this squad should have challenged as it had the mix of youth and experience across the park.

Majewski getting injured by friendly fire in preseason obviously didn’t help but was that the sole reason for a poor season? I didn’t see enough in the FFA Cup matches to suggest he would have been Johnny Warren medalist worthy. His injury replacement in Nikolai Muller was arguably one of our best over the season. Meier would have shown a bit more of his quality if he were around at the end of the season when we weren’t playing in 40 degree heat. At least he had the grace to bow out with respect when he knew he couldn’t run in this heat.

We’ve had decent squads on paper for multiple seasons. But it never comes together on the pitch. Is it the coaching staff and their tactics and plans? Is it the players’ attitudes? Probably a bunch of different factors that I’ll highlight below.

Swiss Bank Account
Probably our 2 best recruits this season. Veterans Pirmin Schwegler and Daniel Lopar. One a midfield general whose presence was missed every time he didn’t play, and the other an experienced shot stopper who proved his worth on multiple occasions and won us points; or at the very least minimised the damage. I am on record stating I wasn’t sure about using a VISA spot on a goalkeeper but he proved me wrong. He’ll be back for next season which we absolutely need, but he needs a better defence in front of him so he doesn’t need to perform goal bound save after save every game.

Schwegler apparently is retiring, which is extremely unfortunate for us. He was arguably our best midfielder in years.

🔴Coaching Shambles
If you can recall, we actually started like a house on fire. Didn’t we win our first 3 games? (I had to check it was so long ago). Yes, we didn’t play “well” but we got the points. Apparently that is the mark of a good team. There was only room for improvement. But it never happened.

We stayed the same, or went backwards and every other team grew into the competition.
Markus Babbel assembled a decent squad. But our tactics lacked. I still want to know the full story. Was he inept? Or were the players inept? Were his tactics too complex and the minimal Australian football brain unable to comprehend them? Or was he stubborn and kept trying Plan A even though it was never working. A good coach adapts to his squad and gets the best out of them and not end up in a 5 game losing streak. Babbel didn’t or couldn’t. And that’s why he had to go.

Many of us wanted it to work, me included. But when you’re losing games you shouldn’t be and your substitutions and approach to games doesn’t change or turn things around, the board seemingly have no other choice.

Let me put it out there though. We got screwed multiple times by the referees and VAR. I heard a stat during one of the last games that WSW have conceded the most penalties all season. If you recall, a bunch of them were ridiculous calls that similar circumstances at the other end of the pitch did not award us a penalty. No wonder Babbel let fly at the refs every press conference. But it was a convenient scapegoat every week if we still couldn’t put away our chances.

Enter JP and we got the whole confidence thing under a new coach honeymoon for a few weeks. That didn’t last long. Even before Babbel was sacked there were rumours that JP was undermining him (Bossi alert). These last few games were a shambles. Playing the same XI back to back with a 4 day turnaround, despite not winning either of those games. Leaving hungry young players on the bench who should be starting every week.
JP was given a contract extension because, default.

Season starts in a few months, no one knows what the A-League will look like next season in terms of salary cap, VISA allowances, budget and everything else this COVID world is throwing at us.
But he should have a mandate to actually use our academy players instead of letting them waste away on the bench.
I expect to be writing a similar review in July next year, though.

🔴This Formation Doesn’t Work
This 3-4-3 thing doesn’t work. It leaves us with 2 holding midfielders that have to do all the work and get overrun every single game. It’s like we’re playing PES and we bought all these classic players to be up front and have to get them on the pitch at the same time. So we sacrifice the midfield so we can have 3 or 4 attackers on at once. This is like Bozza’s team of the week that has a backline and 6 attackers. This shit doesn’t work in real life because you need an engine room in the centre of the park and is where the majority of the game is played unless you’re very quick and transition, which we weren’t. But our mids couldn’t win the ball because we were outnumbered all the time.

Looking back at some earlier round formations and we were playing a 4-3-3 (again to accommodate all these attackers we had). It seems once our 3 centrebacks were fit we adjusted the system so they can all play every week? We sacrificed the midfield to have a not so great defence and a bunch of non creative attackers start. There was no one in between who could consistently link up the play.

🔴Not Playing Players To Their Strengths
To continue on with the above, we also are playing players out of position. Muller is supposed to be a winger. Why is he playing in the centre? Granted he had a bit of success there with a bunch of assists and goals but did we see his best?

Meier was played as a central midfielder a few times because…Babbel wanted him on the ball more? The guy is a goal scorer. Just stand in and around the box and get the ball to him.

Yeboah…wants to face players and take them on, and loses it every time. This guy is only effective when he runs off the shoulder, uses his power and hits the ball. Stop taking players on because you’ve never been successful at it all season. Why is he playing so deep when it clearly doesn’t suit him?

Duke is trying to be one of the creative players when that is clearly not his strength. His stats show that he is a finisher inside the box. That is where he is most deadly.

And lately Cox is playing as maybe a false 9? I can’t tell. But he is never the last man and is so deep at times because we don’t have a midfield and the guys upfront want the ball.

🔴Who Needs A Defence?
And then we had this experienced defence between a back 4 or back 3 when all of them were fit. McGowen, Jurman and Ziegler. Prior to the season starting surely many of us thought our defensive woes were gone. How wrong were we. Lopar bailed these frauds out on so many occasions there is a reason he was our Man of the Match countless times.
Static, slow, losing their man, giving away stupid penalties. The list goes on. Ziegler was a good buy, if he became a citizen. That hasn’t happened and he is not worth a VISA spot. Jurman is supposed to be good isn’t he? He showed glimpses but just wasn’t consistent.
And McGowen had a few good tackles all season.

Why is Tass not starting every week? Sure he has made some mistakes, but what do you expect from a young player that barely gets a chance. He should be starting with a proper veteran who can teach him the ropes and prepare him to be our next long term captain.

Youth Taking Their Minimal Chances
When the youth get their chance, most seem to take them. Tate Russell started well last season and has slowly cemented his spot. Daniel Wilmering started reasonably well until an unfortunate injury ruled him out for the season. We know Baccus has been a success story.
Mo Adam has lit up the stage with the minimal chances he gets. Tass is usually pretty solid when he comes on or starts. There’s a handful of others that have been consistent in the NYL and NPL2 who need to step up and get given regular chances in the A-League to see if they can cut it at that level. Let’s not forget that the Socceroos youth teams are filled with WSW Academy players.
I feel that 2020/21 may have to rely on our youth more than ever so hopefully we see a few of these players get regular chances, and take them.

Undefeated in Sydney Derbies
Small club mentality in that the only thing we can be happy about this season is that we’re undefeated in Sydney Derbies. It’s practically the only thing we achieved this season. But do you think Sydney FC care as they lift yet another trophy?
What would you rather? Win trophies or have some “bragging rights”?

🔴Waiting Months For More Disappointment
COVID-19 threw a massive spanner in the works for the completion of the season. It got delayed, then delayed again and again. Some fans were aiming at FFA at how useless they were because NRL/AFL were getting underway before us. I think there was more to it for the A-League than simply putting together a fixture list. There was the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) with the players. Many player contracts expired at the end of May and clubs/FFA had to negotiate with the PFA for short term extensions for those players affected. FoxSports did everything they could to cancel an existing broadcast agreement. From my viewpoint there were many factors at hand as to why the season didn’t get up and running as quickly as some hoped.

But finally the season resumed in late July and we were rearing to go knowing we had to win most of our games to have any chance of making the top 6. Now that the season is done, we know how that panned out. What a disappointment. All that hype of “we know our job” and “we know what we need to do” led to lethargic clueless football overall. Was well worth the wait…

⭐/🔴 Short Off Season
A positive is the off season isn’t as long as it normally is this time around. Next season is set to start in December as the A-League slowly shifts to winter to align with the other divisions and #ProRelForAus is set to happen maybe in our lifetimes. We’re going to be playing still in summer, but the second half of the season will be in the cooler months and we’ve already seen better football and longer intensity this past month with the not 30+ degree weather.
The “clear air” of media space in summer is non existent. Time to forge our own destiny and stop comparing with the other sports. Too long we’ve had administrators running the game focusing on the other sports and trying to win their fans in between their seasons. It was always a lost cause and because of it, we’ve lost real football fans.

So a shorter offseason this time around means less time for us WSW fans to get overhyped and overconfident of a positive successful season. There’s also less time to assemble a competitive squad and we all have no idea how COVID is affecting the transfer market and getting VISA players down under. I’m looking forward to being hopeful of the season and then being disappointed by Round 6.

🔴Where Art Thou Members O’ Wanderers
Didn’t we have something like 18,000 members leading into this season? So why was our real average around the 12,000 make again? (give or take, off the top of my head)
Shiny football stadium and rubbish results aside, where is everyone? I understand why people slowly stopped attending the games in the dark times at SOP. But we’re back at home, we have pregame atmosphere again, we have post game meets/eats available and yet a third or more of our members failed to turn up to games. Was it the fixture schedule because we know some times aren’t family friendly at all? Or was it “I’m going to buy a membership to secure my seat at the stadium, go to the first couple of games then…meh”?

We’ve always had a rusted on 10-12,000 fans that attend every week. Any numbers higher than that are when we play well and are winning. The membership numbers are skewed and not a true reflection of the supporter base.

There’s also a lot of pointless complaining. Complaints about the new stadium design (WSW didn’t design it fyi), complaints about the new seat locations (everyone had to move across to the other side due to the corporate/media Western stand), complaints about the RBB numbers being down (this is what happens when the league marginalises the active support and does everything in their power to shut it all down – its happened across the entire league. Compare all clubs’ active support today to what it was in 2012-2015).

But the end of the day is that fans stop coming when the team is rubbish. Sort out the results and then fans will decide to show up. Its hard to attend a gloomy game and try and amp up and sing for 90 minutes when the players on the pitch are labouring around clueless.

Club Strategy?
We’ve all seen the #JTOut and #LedererOut hashtags across social media. Whether you agree or not with these statements, lets actually look at things as they are. I’ll try to be objective.

The club invested $30 Million into the HQ and Academy. This is a massive investment never seen before in Australia. The facilities are world class. The backroom staff in the academy is growing with great talent that will help shape the academy and the products coming out of there.

But what is the point of the Academy? Without a transfer system in place (yet), WSW can’t even make money off these kids in Australia. They have to let them go for free or hope they get picked up by overseas clubs. Obviously an Australian transfer system (and a National Second Division) will start to see the club hopefully return a profit in their investment. But that isn’t in place yet. So is the Academy meant to create top players to help us win trophies? If that’s the case, why so few opportunities for some of these kids. We give them scholarship or senior contracts and then they don’t make the matchday squad or sit on the bench. I still think 2020/21 the coach will be forced to use these kids.

To say the club is tight and doesn’t spend money is a bit short sighted. They’ve invested in the infrastructure and the personnel to run it. As a “club”, WSW run well.

Even the recruiting this season was good. As stated earlier, it was sprinkled with seasoned veterans from Germany and Switzerland, returning Socceroos and homegrown talent. It passed all the checkboxes of a competitive side that other teams have assembled in the past. But it all went wrong. I’m not sure if it was the recruitment itself (again, on paper it was competitive) but surely something failed massively in the coaching department. The club must have been extremely disappointed and frustrated that Babbel didn’t work out. He said all the right things, came with the right attitude and worldly experience. It just didn’t translate to consistent performances.

I’m curious to know what the fans want from the club in terms of recruitment? Everyone says the club are tight and don’t spend money. Surely on paper this year the club wasn’t tight? I don’t think recruitment was the issue at all this year, it was the team management. Letting players go every season is more likely due to minimal wriggle room under the current salary cap rules. Its hard to offer more money to all your performing players and remain within the cap. This offseason is even worse because they (the League) haven’t even worked out what the cap is yet. So watch to see a bunch of players across the league leave for more money elsewhere whilst the League and the FFA sort this out. Again, our Academy hopefully comes in handy next season.

The club run well as a business. They’ve got all their ducks in a row and things are moving along nicely. The HQ is world class, the Academy will pay dividends, their content creators are getting better and better and they even invested in the W-League team this year who had their best season ever (unfortunate it fell apart halfway through when players started leaving).

But.

The club has failed in the A-League department, for whatever reason, time and time again. Our last “successful” season was 2015/16 coming second and losing to Adelaide in the Grand Final. We haven’t made the finals for 3 years now? (last time we scraped into the 6 and Sotirio got sent off as a sub and Jumpei missed a penalty)
We haven’t won a domestic trophy since 2012/13. For a “big club” this isn’t very big. The club needs to sort out the A-League division within their organisation. They need something like a Director of Football to oversee those operations, get the recruitment right in the coaching and playing ranks. We need proper vision on how to get us to the top. No more pointless “a letter from the chairman” type of stuff. We’ve read it before, time and time again.
Everything in the background is sorted now. HQ, stadium etc. Now get the foreground fixed with a competitive team that actually wins games and challenges and wins titles. Lest we end up worse than a bunch of cows. And we can’t have that happen, ever.

See you space cowboy…
(damn, I’m going to have to change this sign off, aren’t I?)

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