By Michael Turner
It came as no surprise to most A-League fans to see that Markus Babbel was given his marching orders. While results on the pitch are a concern, it is equally as imperative to re-discover what the Wanderers’ identity is for many fans.
Where to next? The next managerial appointment has immense repercussions on a club that is yearning for success. There is little doubt that the Western Sydney Wanderers are a big club in the domestic scene. Any big club demands success, and the Wanderers haven’t tasted that since the 2015/16 season.
Off the field, the argument could be made that the club is commercially extremely sound. A brand new stadium, thanks to the collective lobbying of both the Parramatta Eels and the Wanderers management. Brand new, state-of-the-art training and academy facilities. A reasonably successful youth academy operating in the traditional heartland of Australian Football.
The appointment of Markus Babbel was meant to be the pinnacle of this long-term strategy and development. Hindsight now tells us this was perhaps a misguided appointment. Many A-League fans would highlight the pitfalls of a foreign manager, with long-term success in this competition lying mostly at the feet of Australian managers: Graham Arnold, Tony Popovic, Ange Postecoglou and Kevin Muscat.
The equation appears to be simple: Australian managers you would reasonably assume understand the complex and unique structure of our domestic league. Salary Caps, limited squad sizes, the finals series, and the collective weight of expectation for the various clubs. Something the likes of Robbie Fowler and Markus Babbel publicly stated they couldn’t completely grasp.
The appointment this month of striker Simon Cox may perhaps prove to be a step in the right direction. Around the Bloc spoke this week to Chris Phillips, Chief Sports Reporter for the Southend Echo, who followed Cox closely during his tenure at ‘The Shrimpers’.
Phillips noted that Cox’s work rate and work ethic endeared him to the Southend faithful. Southend were not a club where unrivalled success was expected, and that Cox seemingly embodied the expectations to give his all on the field and to do everything he could for his side. A prolific goal scorer in League One, he also proved to be unselfish, with a plethora of assists under his belt.
Phillips remarked that on a number of occasions Cox would find himself dropping deep to win the ball back, again a testament to his heralded work ethic and drive to work for his team. It is this mentality that may be the spark to reignite the passion that has – for the last few rounds at least – been absent from Bankwest Stadium.
The devoted, colourful, vocal Wanderers fanbase expect success, to be sure. But first and foremost, they demand passion and hard work. They sing and chant their hearts out in the stands every week – why wouldn’t they expect the same investment from the players in return? Similarly, the next Wanderers managerial appointment needs to both understand and reinvigorate this passion in the playing squad.
We’ve seen patches of this throughout the season, with Daniel Georgievski and Mitchell Duke the prime examples, but this needs to be a whole of club approach. It is important that the club management ensure that interim manager JP De Marigny understands this and can relay the message to his squad.
Despite the negativity that currently surrounds the team’s league position, the season is not over. Thanks to the unique and different Finals Series, there is still pride, and potentially some success to be salvaged this season. But the next steps for the club as a whole are important. How JP rallies his troops over the next few games – important away trips to Central Coast and Sydney FC – will set the tone for the rest of the season.
Similarly, the next manager appointment will set the tone for the club for the future. The club cannot afford another failed appointment, and no doubt the top brass understand this. Like Popovic in the miracle inaugural season, and the subsequent Asian Champions League success, the next manager needs to inherently understand the diverse, and culturally important make-up of our expectant fanbase.
Equally as important, is to translate that understanding into passion in the playing squad, and ultimately the results the fans desperately crave. To steal a media trope from new recruit Cox’s homeland, right now “Western Sydney Expects”. Sooner, rather than later. The pride of a passionate footballing region demands it.
Michael Turner is the host of Around The Bloc, the supporters’ podcast of the Western Sydney Wanderers. Tune in every Wednesday from 5pm AEDT on the FNR App or footballnationradio.com/listen-live, or find the show on your favourite podcatcher.