To say it was scenes that our young club has never experienced before would be an understatement. This was the first coaching appointment post Tony Popovic.
The club in a very short period of time needed to get this right as Popovic had resigned 5 days prior to the start of the 2017/18 A-League season.
What did this mean?
The squad was of Popovic’s choosing. The next hire had to adopt this team and take the club in the right direction. There was also the issue of time, well in to the A-League season means months in to the European season, so options are generally shallow.
Three candidates were in the running. Stephan Schmidt was one of them and evidently so was Josep Gombau. Apparently offers had been sent to Schmidt and another unknown candidate with negotiations falling over in the last hurdle. This left an outside chance for Gombau to swoop in for the job.
Gombau, when announced, was a positive choice in my eyes. This was a coach that transformed Adelaide United and set the groundwork for Guillermo Amor to have success. Ex-players sang his praises. He was brought in to the coaching set up of the Australian national team and was the head coach of the Australian U23’s.
I felt this was the appointment that could transform our pragmatic and defensive style in to a foundation to develop a future brand of ‘Wanderers football’. I felt he would bring in expertise for our youth from his days as U23’s coach. I felt he would bring nous in the current crop and assess the talent available from his time as the Assistant to the national team.
How wrong could I be!
Simon Hill of Fox Sports mentioned that Wanderers had gone from being a club that you couldn’t get any information or rumours out of to one that was the most leakiest club in the country.
Dissatisfaction amongst the players was high. Hayden Foxe, a loyal assistant to Tony Popovic and caretaker for the start of the 2017/18 season left after a disastrous result against Newcastle. Players approached the CEO, John Tsatsimas, directly regarding their concerns. Youth players were being brought in to the 1st team for training without Gombau truly knowing who they were; a case of mistaken identity.
Then there was the playing style. Popovic implemented a rigorous and fit team that played a defensive 4-2-3-1 that typically played counter attacking football. Later in Popovic’s reign, he rather unsuccessfully tried to introduce a possession based style with the acquisition of Andres Carrasco of ex-Barcelona fame as an assistant. A new direction was required.
Then came Gombau. The structure and organisation of Popovic had been thrown out the window in favour of what looked to be chaos. Player’s didn’t buy in to his style and Gombau didn’t gain their trust. Player’s fitness had severely deteriorated. What looked to be a possession based style took countless weeks to implement with little to no success as opposition capitalised on regaining possession in the middle of the pitch just as Wanderer’s back line were trying to build up play. It was predictable and easy to defend against.
Then there were public spats. Oriol Riera telling Gombau to be quiet in a gesture of bringing his index finger to his mouth along with a few heartfelt words (judging by his demeanour) during a fixture against Central Coast Mariners. Club legend Brendon Santalab publicly speaking to Fox Sports of his dissatisfaction after a late season game against Brisbane Roar.
So what did the club learn of Gombau’s ill-fated legacy?
Firstly, the club just couldn’t ‘sling the keys’ to a manager with blind faith and believe they were the right person to lead the direction of the club. When Popovic was appointed; he was entrusted in building the club’s values, reputation, development and playing style along with coaching. Popovic wasn’t just a coach, he was a Manager in the traditional sense; akin to Ferguson and Wenger at Manchester United & Arsenal respectively.
What seemed to be apparent was that Gombau was afforded the same whilst only having the ability to coach.
When John Tsatsimas approached candidates for the season ahead; he spoke of the club at length; it’s values, the region, the demographics, the multiculturalism, the fighting spirit, etc. Tsatsimas approached and interviewed 13 candidates in 10 days across 3 different countries in Europe. Markus Babbel was his man. Markus was the candidate Tsatsimas had at the top of his list.
So in the appointment of a new manager, it was imperative the club got it right. They ensure that Babbel speaks to all coaches to track the youth consistently. Wanderer’s CEO, John Tsatsimas is incredibly protective of the youth players and would hate to see one of our own leave.
It was also directed to Babbel that he wouldn’t have the ability to select his assistant. What the club has ensured is probably the best assistant in the league in Jean-Paul de Marigny from Melbourne Victory.
It also has been instructed to Babbel to get the best out of the current squad as majority of transfers had been signed well before Gombau’s sacking. The only transfers to have been brought in are to fill the foreign quota of which they have been impressive and astute signings thus far.
Whilst not as imperative, but by guessing the trends of Wanderer’s social media, they’re holding Babbel accountable. There has been great effort by the club to improve it’s social media with constant videos and interaction with its fans. Babbel has featured consistently on social media interviews conducted by the club. Something that was never done by Popovic (who was quite camera shy on purpose) or Gombau.
Gombau has been a significant lesson for Western Sydney Wanderers as a club.
This legacy provided the club with what looks to be proper internal controls in to the management of a head coach. It exposed the club to keep their eyes on the ball and enabled the young club to mature. It also represented the need to bring in an important appointment as the club needed to show ‘who’s in charge’. They have done this with Babbel.