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Spirit of the Game: Left wandering behind

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Western sydney wanderers - The Catholic weekly

As yet another A-League finals series without the Wanderers comes to a close, the Western Sydney club now have some serious work to do this off-season appointing their seventh manager in as many seasons.

Not only is there a managerial hole to fill, but a team culture that needs fixing. Right now though, the Wanderers have an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone.

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A frustrating seven years for the red and black outfit has time and again promised rebirth and success without delivering anything but calamity.

In this time the Wanderers made finals just once, including five consecutive seasons between 2017 and 2022 without an appearance.

Hayden Foxe, Josep Gombau, Markus Babbel, Jean-Paul de Marigny, Carl Robinson and Marko Rudan have all failed to replicate the success of inaugural coach Tony Popovic, who in five years led the team for four finals appearances (including three grand finals) a Premiers Plate and an Asian Champions League.

So, what exactly went wrong?

Any football fan in this country knows the tale of the Wanderers: a team born from multiculturalism, the voice for the marginalised, the rebels of Sydney out west with a ball and a dream.

But the club’s ‘zero to hero’ story has started to wear off as it’s become an excuse for poor football.

That’s not coming from a salty supporter from across the city—I’m a fan myself.

One only needs to look most recently at Rudan’s tenure which went downhill and fell to an all-time low after a 4-3 defeat against Macarthur in February when he spectacularly claimed the referees and A-League held “an absolute stigma attached to my football club.”

Unleashing on match official Adam Kersey, Rudan accused him and the VAR of favouritism in the post-match press conference and laid out a stark reminder of the club’s history and its importance to the league.

While Rudan probably felt it his managerial duty to defend his team, using the club’s identity and history against the league did something very dangerous—it completely deflected the on-field failures of the team away from club.

It’s like having eight weeks to complete a university assignment, rushing it only the night before and then complaining the faculty gave you poor marks.

Western Sydney Wanderers - The Catholic Weekly
Brendan Hamill playing for Western Sydney Wanderers Oct 2017. Photo: wikipedia.

Sure, maybe sometimes you feel the tutor isn’t the best, but let’s be honest, it’s not entirely on them.

The responsibility to produce good football is a club’s first and foremost role. Much more harm than good arises when diverting attention from the club’s failure to do that, and it was no surprise Rudan was subsequently banned for two games.

It’s all well and good to appoint someone like Rudan, who understands the culture of Western Sydney, but that identity can’t be used in defence of or against the team when things go south. Huff and puff and the house is bound to come down.

The football needs to come first.

Following Rudan’s departure last week for personal reasons, there are perhaps some of the best possible candidates available right now than has been in a long time. But they won’t be on the market for long.

If the first name on the list isn’t former Mariners coach Nick Montgomery, something is seriously wrong.

The Leeds-born manager had his time at Scottish side Hibernian called short last week, meaning the A-League premiership winner is back on the coaching market just eight months after signing a three-year contract.

Former Melbourne City boss Patrick Kisnorbo is also available while former Wanderers coach Tony Popovic still hasn’t extended his contract with this year’s grand finalist Melbourne Victory.

All are valid options, not only because they will understand the culture and identity of Western Sydney but also have shown their ability to bring a football-first mantra to the clubs they’ve managed.

Hiring well is usually only half the battle, but in this case it may fix the entire issue.

The once perceived leader of the future of Australian football has been ‘wandering’ behind for too long since it conquered Asia 10 years ago. Now it must reawaken the giant—or more specifically, appoint someone capable enough to rebuild it.

Fans will be eager to find out the new face they will be singing for sooner rather than later. It’s in the best interest of the club to not only act fast but get it right this time.

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