A-League 2013/14: Round Twenty Review

(As promised here is the first of several hideously overdue reviews of this season’s A-League rounds)

Central Coast Mariners Vs Wellington Phoenix (1-4 Wellington Phoenix win)

The Wellington Phoenix arrived in Gosford on the back of a disastrous result at home against the Heart, and with the home team boosted by the arrival of new Korean import Kim Seung-Yong, the return of the prodigal Bernie Ibini, and Eddie Bosnar injected into the starting XI, all expectation was that the visitors would struggle for the points. Ibini’s well taken goal in the first half must have further emphasized the improbability of a win for Kiwis, however whatever Ernie Merrick said to his charges at the half time break must’ve been like a shot of peptides to an Essendon footballer. The first riposte from he Phoenix came via Kenny Cunningham, who profited from a deflected pass that arrived in the right place for a driving shot past Liam Reddy. Then, to the frustration of Mike Sterjovski the Mariners’ revisited their penalty taking problems from last season when he failed to slot the ball into Moss’s net a scant 3 minutes later. The heroics of the All-White’s keeper was surpassed in the 63rd minute when Hernandez shot the ball into the Mariner’s net, it’s swerving curving flight path rocketing past a helpless and hopeless Reddy to be buried into he top right hand corner. The role of the Costa Rican in the revival of Phoenix’s fortunes at this stage of the 2013/14 season cannot be under-estimated. Then, to add further unhappiness on the local fans, the third key foreign player for the Phoenix, Belgian Stein Huysegems, was able to tap the ball into the net. More pain was to come to with only ten minutes of regulation time to go, when Huysegems had all the space in the world to deliver a cross for Jeremy Brockie to score the fourth and final Wellington goal. There is no doubt that this resurgence from the Phoenix in this phase of the 2013/14 season was remarkable, yet to bury last year’s grad final winners in the style that they did in this match was stunning. As for the Mariners, there current iteration as a squad is still to demonstrate their collective worthiness contrasted with those teams coached by Graham Arnold.

Newcastle United vs Sydney FC (0-2 Sydney FC win)

For whatever reason this season has seen these two teams meet with the team in red and blue promising a lot before the game, and then after much huffing and puffing they end up coming off second best to the Sky Blues who have in turn never looked that competent. There is no doubt that when the Jets attack focused on Adam Taggart fires they are in the hunt, and when he fails to hit the mark the Newcastle defence and midfield must rise to the occasion otherwise it’s all over red rover. This was the case in this match which looked far more attractive in the first half passages of play than was deserved by the Hunter Stadium pitch. Both Janjetovic and Birighitti were threatened by some useful shots on goal, yet neither Sydney FC nor the home team could break the deadlock. With the older brigade under Frank Farina doing their best to subdue one of the most promising group of younger players in the A-League, it took a set piece and one of the most senior Sky Blue players to start the scoring. Ognenovski rose to meet a corner in the 60th minute and his effort at beating the Jets defence was rewarded with a worthy goal. Arguably less worthy was the penalty given by the referee to Alessandro del Piero against Taylor Regan, but if there is one thing you can count on the ex-Juventus star will never shy away from doing all he can in the box when it comes to getting a chance to shoot on goal. In this instance it was a spot kick that sailed past Birighitti, leaving the home team once more behind against Sydney FC. There was a momentary flurry involving Taggart for the home team, however once more in 2013/14 when Sydney FC and Newcastle United met the points went down the F3 to the harbour city.

Melbourne Victory vs Adelaide United (4-3 Melbourne Victory win)

There are some wonderful rivalries and big games developing a real heritage in the short history of the A-League, and the duels between the Victory and the Reds are certainly up there for passion and pride. Therefore it was entirely appropriate that this game was possibly the best of the 2013/14 season so far when it came to open goal scoring between finely matched opponents. Whilst Gombau’s squad has plenty of reason to present an argument for being the most stylistically attractive team going forward in attack, with the goal from Cirio within the first four minutes of this game serving as evidence for such a proposition, they are also one of the least convincing defensively at times. Hence the manner in which they opened up too much space in front of the box at the 14th minute allowed Gui Finkler a chance to level the scores. His shot was exquisitely executed and as it was buried into the back of Coe’s net the Brazilian had shown yet again how important he is to Muscat’s team. The first half didn’t end there when it came to goals; in the 44th minute it was that man Cirio again for the away team, assisted in his scoring by the player who I think really has gotten Gombau out of his critics’ bad book, i.e. Bruce Djite. For all the flair and style of the Latin tiki-taka possession system Djite is the much needed hard working, direct playing complement that drags the Reds into the opposition’s box.

With a 1-2 scoreline at half time the attending fans of both clubs would’ve been happy with the quality of football on display, yet the second half arguably saw a good match become unforgettable. The home team was dealt a blow with the substitution through injury to Tom Rogic, yet a scant five minutes later Finkler echoed Cirio and sunk his second goal of the match, tying things up at 2-2. With yellow cards flying everywhere and injuries piling up the next goal came from a howler committed by one of the best A-League goalkeepers going around; Galekovic scuffed a clearing kick outside the Reds box and in the resulting chase down Archie Thompson did what he loves doing, scoring a goal against Adelaide in from of a home Victory crowd. Obviously defensively the match was a bit of a lost cause, with neither the Reds nor the home team showing a water-tight back line, yet no neutral or home fan could complain when Rogic’s replacement Kosta Barbarouses first set up Finkler for a chance to score, who then assisted Troisi to then pass back to the Kiwi Victory player who tapped into the net for a 4-2 scoreline. Then, to bring the match to a frisson in the 82nd minute Cirio took advantage of a slip from the bungling Pablo Contreras to put the ball past Coe, scoring his hat trick and leaving the match open for at least 8 minutes of regular time. The scoreline didn’t change, which perhaps was unfair to the visitors, thus leaving the Reds joyless and without any points even though they had scored three goals away from home. There is no doubt this was a classic match, and both teams have much to look forward to come finals time.

Perth Glory vs Western Sydney Wanderers (0-2 Western Sydney Wanderers win)

The last game on the Saturday night was played in Perth’s nib Stadium, and once more the club that once was the pride of domestic football in this country demonstrated how dysfunctional and sad they have become, in no small part due to a fractious player group not held in check by an owner who has little grasp of what to do. The Wanderers had traveled without several of their usual key players including for the first time in their short history Ante Covic, and this gave Jerrad Tyson an opportunity to don the gloves for an A-League game since he last played for the now defunct Gold Coast United. However whilst several of Popovic’s usual starters were missing one of the regulars for the Wanderers was there to score a nice goal in the 11th minute, with Matteo Poljak shooting from outside the box and beating a diving Danny Vukovic. The Glory’s goal keeper was certainly one of the better aspects of the match for the home team, whereas almost everyone else playing under Kenny Lowe’s direction looked slow, aimless and disjointed. Kwabena Appiah was terrorizing his Glory opponent on the right flank, whilst Labinot Haliti was not much less difficult to stop on the left. However the potential for a greater lead to be established by the Wanderers didn’t come to fruition until deep into the second half, when French marquee William Gallas committed one of the most farcical errors in front of goal ever seen in Australia:

Tomi Juric made the home team pay for their errors and at 0-2 down it was as if someone told the Glory players that now they should start playing football. There had been a moment before Gallas’s cock up when Jerrad Tyson had to wrestle for a ball that almost trickled into the visitors goal, but that had been the only scare. However in a frantic last quarter of an hour the home team tried to rescue the match. Even Vukovic gave his all with a stunning attempt of a bicycle kick in the 88th minute that was not far off target. Yet even his heroics would do nothing to change the result. The Wanderers had once more demonstrated their mastery of the Glory, and with this win edged closer to the Roar. For the Glory it was yet another backward step in a series of many in 2013/14.

Melbourne Heart vs Brisbane Roar (1-0 Melbourne Heart win)

In every season there will be a game that makes you scratch your head and go ‘I didn’t expect that’. There have been a few 5-0 thumpings in 2013/14 to warrant such an expression, but this single goal victory from the Heart is just as deserving, especially considering how strong the Roar have been since week one and how dire Heart were until the replacement of John Aloisi. Much of this improvement must be put down to the influence of one player who was unavailable to Aloisi and who returned to fitness for John van t’Schip; Orlando Engelaar. The huge Dutch man-mountain was there when need in the 60th minute of this match, which until then had been a story of Heart semi-chances and the quietness of the Roar. Whilst the home coach was getting decent traction out of a squad that was stable from the previous round’s victory, Mike Mulvey had wrung some fairly ineffectual changes. This dire position for the visitors was put into more sharp relief when Engelaar connected with a lovely pass in the box from Dugandzic, toe-lobbing the ball past Theo into the Roar’s net on the hour mark. Engelar could’ve increased the lead twofold when given the opportunity for an indirect free inside the Roar box however his hard struck shot cannoned off the wall of Brisbane defenders. From that point onwards it was all about the Roar trying to find an equaliser, which was most stunningly rejected by Patrick Kisnorbo in the 91st minute. His tackle on a rampant and primed Berisha scarcely centimetres in front of Heart goalie Andrew Redmayne was sublime; sliding in to dispossess the dangerous Albanian striker with a skill that belied previous efforts from the ex-Socceroo this season. Mulvey’s team failed in their quest to salvage a draw, leaving the Heart exultant in probably their best win of the 2013/14 season, and still hopeful for a finals berth.

Best Game: Melbourne Victory vs Adelaide. Seven goals, a hat-trick, history, passion…one of the defining games of the 2013/14 A-league season

Best Goal: Gui Finkler’s first goal for Melbourne Victory was a stellar combination of composure, accuracy, calm thinking and sheer outrageous skill. If he has missed his shot the Hernandez goal for the Phoenix over the Mariners would’ve taken the distinction.

Best Team: Whilst Melbourne Heart could be considered for causing a huge upset in beating Brisbane, and the Victory have some claim because of their win over Adelaide, the best performance this round belongs to Wellington Phoneix. To come back from a goal down at Bluetongue against last year’s GF winners and post 4 goals in an away win is a huge result.

Worst Team: Perth pure and simple. To wait until the 75th minute of a game to look even remotely interested in competing against an opposition team when in front of your own fans is simply unaccpetable.

Youssouf Hersi: The Half a Million Man?

Youssouf Hersi: Western Sydney Wanderers’ Dutch Star

In recent news there has been much speculation as to the ongoing contract negotiations between the Wanderers’ key Dutch player, Youssouf Hersi and the club over the potential renewal of his contract for at least the next A-League season. The Daily Telegraph has noted as a byline for a recent article “Western Sydney Wanderers won’t be bounced into re-signing Youssouf Hersi as the Dutch winger seeks a deal of more than $500,000 to stay with the Premiers next season”, and combined with previously touted stories from the Sydney Morning Herald and other media outlets regarding Hersi being sought by Sydney FC and the Newcastle Jets plenty of Wanderers faithful (including myself) are wondering what is going on. Will Hersi stay and if so will he get the half a million contract? Is he worth that much? Is it more in the club’s interest to keep him no matter the cost, or return the potential dollars to club juniors or perhaps another overseas player. How realistic or truthful are the stories being spread in both traditional and new media? I’d like to use this post to ponder some potential answers to these questions, and give an opinion on the conundrum presented by the basic premise of these stories. Should Hersi be re-signed, and if so for how much?

First off let’s consider the actual value of Youssouf Hersi as a player. There is no denying that in the 2012/13 season and for those games he has played fully fit in the current season that Hersi is one the Wanderers’ most prolific and exceptional talents. For a relatively small and lithe man he has a remarkable ability to combine ball control, tactical vision, determination and both defensive and offensive aggression. I would argue he is in the same category of player as Mesut Özil, though obviously not as talented or as well positioned in terms of national team or European league status. In almost every game he has played for the Wanderers he has been a key outlet for attacking movements on the right flank, and his combination with German back Jerome Polenz is simply sublime. More often than not you will see Polenz and Hersi pass between themselves in their own half at the end of some defensive phase, then Hersi will drive foward with Polenz outside him in support. Then depending upon the situation Hersi will either drive into the centre himself and take on the opposition defenders or feed Polenz for a cross or perhaps even more central passing. Again and again since they were first paired the Dutchman and the German have taken the Wanderers out of defence and back into attack.

Then there is Hersi’s speed and individual positional awareness. Whether it’s floating out on the extreme right flank waiting for that cross channel lobbed pass from the left, or darting into the midfield all elbows and knees, a whirlwind of activity trying to stem the other team’s forward progress, he keeps the attention of everyone at the game. This in turn has led to some of his less than happiest moments, both in terms of injury and discipline issues. Small and wiry, Youssouf has been prone to being targeted either fairly or unfairly by the opposite team and he has picked up both season-troubling knocks and suspensions as a result. In an away game against Perth Glory in 2012/13 he was marched after being niggled and fouled by Scott Jamieson. There was also his two yellow card performance in the semi against Brisbane which led to him missing the 2012/13 grand final due to suspension (and arguably costing the Wanderers a chance of a championship win in their debut A-League season). His travails in the current season have been no less troubled, though this time it has been due to injury (losing four weeks after a nasty foot injury in the derby against Sydney FC). Right now he is only into his third round of playing since receiving that blow, and having been sorely missed particularly in the loss against the Roar in Brisbane three rounds ago his work on the field against the Jets tonight will be crucial for the Wanderers.

So there is very little to be said against Hersi as a valued player for the Western Sydney Wanderers. His history of five goal in 2012/13, his impact on the field plus (and this hasn’t been mentioned as yet) his popularity among the Wanderers’ faithful is almost without equal in the club. Yet with rumours of a $500,000 fee to re-sign it’s only fair to ask questions over his continued presence in the red and black.

I would argue that he has demonstrated considerable value as a player and in light of that his potential asking price has to be given long and serious consideration. Of course I have some serious reservations first off over the actual dollar values being touted as well as the dynamics of the contract negotiations. The Daily Telegraph is hardly the most credible organ for journalism in general, and for whatever reason (whether it be editorial bias, general journalism weaknesses, the usual flaws in non-dedicated football coverage, etc) I would usually be very sceptical of such a story as that cited above. In fact generally stories about contract negotiations in any sport (or indeed any commercial activity) need to be taken with a huge grain of salt. I do however find the reporter for this story, i.e. Tom Smithies, one of the better journalists in football in Australia, so I think we can safely say he is not pushing some editorial barrow.

The next question is whether the $500,000 figure has come from Hersi and/or his agent, or if it’s from Lyall Gorman and the Wanderers’ managerial group. If the former it could been as an ambit claim, a statement of intent not just to the Wanderers but also for other clubs (in the A-League or indeed internationally), or a bargaining position aimed to express his sense of self-worth. Alternatively it could’ve been a dollar value has been leaked by Gorman etc as a means to either brace the supporters for the expense of Hersi’s re-signing or perhaps start to prepare the popular opinion about potentially discharging him at season’s end. The Wanderers’ main demographic are not the kind of people who would love a player who is worth huge sums of money (unlike say the Sydney FC supporters who do revel even if they deny it on the ‘Bling Factor’ of players like Alessandro del Piero, Dwight Yorke etc). The Wanderers’ fans and members would most likely see such a huge investment the clubs’ players’ salaries as perhaps problematic if it meant Hersi’s contract gobbled up too much of the other players’ wages. There is also the potential impact on investment in youth, or indeed the burden of such a big re-signing fee for any prospective buyer of the Wanderers.

In all honesty I am leaning towards the ambit claim side when considering this contract issue, with much of it being driven by Hersi’s agent perhaps looking at a future move for Youssouf away from the A-League to richer fields in Asia (specifically China’s CSL, possibly the J-League in Japan or one of the petro-dollar rich Middle Eastern leagues such as the UAE, Qatari or Saudi competitions). Personally I don;t think Youssouf wants to leave the Wanderers nor do I think the club wants him to go. However this is a professional sport where a man who relies on football to drive his income has possibly reached an optimum position later in his career when it comes to the ability to earn big dollars. At 31 years old and with a legacy of injury (particularly during his Eredivise and pre-Wanderers’ career) it makes fiscal sense to strike hard for the best bucks.

Now does that mean the Wanderers should contemplate forking out half a million without too much thought? Or do they just say ‘Piss off’ and spend a fraction of the $500,000 on either a new overseas player or perhaps invest in someone like Kwabena Appiah-Kubi? Of course for Gorman to splash out almost 10% of the club’s salary cap on on player is almost impossible to contemplate, so either the asking price will need  come down or it will be ‘Bye Bye Youssef’. Obtaining a cheaper alternative player to Hersi is arguably a real crap shoot; whilst Popovic and Gorman have done exceedingly well in signing up players who have been excellent value on and off the pitch, there are no guarantees lightning will strike twice. For every Shinji Ono and Youssouf Hersi in the world of A-League overseas recruits there are plenty of players like Pablo Contreras and Michael Mifsud (i.e. over-expensive international duds). I am reasonably optimistic that looking to either reinvest in youth or perhaps bulking up the financial state of a domestic or pre-existing Wanderers’ player would be very helpful as an alternative. Kwabena should flashes of Hersi-esque brilliance last season and in some ways is like a mini-Youssouf. Perhaps NYL player Martin Lo may also be an option down the road. Of course this again is a policy fraught with concern and with no guarantees of success. Yet the reassuring aspect of such a path is that it keeps the development and costs in-house.

Kwabena Appiah-Kubi: A Potential Replacement for Youssouf Hersi?

There are so many variables in play right now so it is impossible to do more than speculate and hypothesize as to how Youssouf Hersi’s negotiations will progress. I think I may be speaking for the bulk of Western Sydney Wanderers members and fans when I say we do not want to see Hersi lost to the club. We also do not want his cost to retain be so egregiously expensive that it detracts from the overall health, wealth and harmony of the club. No player no matter how good is either indispensable nor affordable at all costs. The Wanderers are not Barcelona, Chelsea, Bayern or indeed even Sydney FC when it comes to chequebook player acquisition. However we all respect and understand that professionalism dictates Hersi’s contract is negotiated with all variables on the table, and each one up for discussion. If in 2014/15 Youssouf is back in the red and black and playing to the limit of his talent in a team that consistently wins, without any financial disaster waiting in the wings, well I will be exceedingly happy. Having said that if Hersi departs at the close of this season I can and will respect that decision from all parties. Bottom line, Youssouf was and is and forever will be a part of the Wanderers, and that in itself is inestimable of value for player, club and fan alike.

2013/14 Western Sydney Wanderers Preview: The Forwards

First Squad Players: Mark Bridge (LWF), Tomi Juric (F),Youssouf Hersi (RWF)

Substitutes/Reserves: Labinot Haliti (WF), Taj Minniecon (WF), Kwabena Appiah-Kubi (LWF), Brendon Santalab (F)

The most consistent criticism of the Wanderers in their debut season was they were not good enough when in front of the opposition’s goal, with a set of forward who were notorious for missing golden opportunities. Both Dino Kresinger and Joey Gibbs never really scored enough goals even though the tall Croat became a folk hero for the fans and those goals he did score were gems. Mark Bridge was profligate with his shots on goal and his season end tally of 11 goals was no reflection on what he probably should have ended up with. Therefore with the off-season a prime time for recruitment Tony Popovic made some key decisions for this part of the squad, and with Juric and Santalab he has two potential goal scoring forwards who would be envied by many A-League rivals.

For pace, commitment, individual skill and flair, and overall impact on any game he played in Youssouf Hersi was arguably the best player across the entire regular season for the Wanderers. His record of 14 consecutive wins whilst playing for the Wanderers was interspersed with disciplinary issues and injury concerns, and there is no doubt his absence from the team in the Grand Final was a bitter blow to their chances. In combination on the right flank with Jerome Polenz these two tore up opposition after opposition, and Hersi was not just able to sniff out or set up some great goals. He was tireless in defence and was often found roaming in areas not strictly in his domain on the pitch, however he always involved himself when he was needed. However the problems he had with red cards last season (two, one against Perth, the other against Brisbane in the semis) needs to be addressed if possible for the coming season.

Tomi Juric should be a fantastic replacement for Dino Kresinger as his form for Adelaide in 2012/13 as well as his appearances as a surprise call up for Socceroos duty in the 2013 EAFF Cup indicates he should be able to score plenty of goals. He has gotten off to an ambivalent start in the trial games, with some good performances against Wellington and Bankstown, but a less than adequate effort against the Reds at Penrith and Melbourne Victory in Hobart. It could be said that he needs to mature and find his feet within the squad so the early unevenness in his efforts on the pitch pre-season may not be indicative of his regular season potential. For the Wanderers to have a chance of replicating their 2012/13 success Juric must do better than his predecessors in such a vital position. Depending on his form at the club and the movements within the national team there is a reasonable possibility we could see Juric jetting off to Brazil next year in the Wanderers squad.

Mark Bridge was the unlikely success story for the Wanderers in 2012/13, however as noted previously his achievements could have been so much greater. A legend because of his scoring the very first A-League goal by any Western Sydney Wanderer, Bridge reformed his attitude to the game and impressed most fans and pundits with his efforts. His demolition of Adelaide in the 6-1 massacre at Wanderland and his one man goal scored against Newcastle at Campbelltown were examples of a reinvigorated, proficient Mark Bridge who had parted ways with crosstown rivals Sydney FC under less than happy terms. Bridge also toiled mightily in a defensive role on the left flank, often tracking back to help D’Apuzzo in stopping raids down that side. He certainly had an abundance of chances that were left unrealised, so assuming he can keep up the same efforts and skills from last season whilst polishing his finishing skills he should be in for another great season in 2013/14.

Labinot Haliti is a player who excels at making the most impact in the short period of time he usually has on the pitch, and this was never clearer than his goal against the Mariners at Bluetounge stadium in the top of the table clash last season. Rarely a starting member Popovic deployed Haliti to such great effect that he ended up scoring more goals than Dino Kresinger and Joey Gibbs combined. Assuming Juric is the prime pick for Popovic in 2013/14 we will probably see Haliti return to his duties as a high impact sub, however he does offer the team the flexibility of bringing him in if there are any concerns over the starting forwards.

Tahj Minniecon had the most unfortunate of seasons in 2012/13, spending almost all of it off the park due to a severe injury in January. Given limited chances during the time he was physically fit he had an uneven history when playing, mostly being used as a substitute for more fancied forwards. Returning in 2013/14 the signs are that Tahj has not only returned to physical fitness but also improved his skills. His potential for more appearances no doubt depends upon the form and availability of other players, however by all rights he deserves a better season in 2013/14.

Kwabena Appiah-Kubi was regularly injected into the right wing position in 2012/13 when Hersi was unavailable, and whilst he showed great potential he never quite delivered. Pacey and highly technical on the ball just like his Dutch team mate he doesn’t have as yet the same tactical sense or vision. Prone to holding onto the ball too long, he still has the look of a young footballer who could develop into a major part of the Wanderers’ future. There will be fierce competition for the right to take over Hersi’s spot when needed, and Appiah-Kubi will be right in the mix.

Brendon Santalab is an older striker with plenty of experience in the old NSL, then in European, Asian and A-League clubs. A journeyman who has been added to the Wanderers line-up much like his fellow SFC veteran Mark Bridge, it might be expected he will be the second choice to Tomi Juric for Tony Popovic. However in pre-season games Santalab has done quite well and the jockeying for preferred striker may be closer than first thought. Expect Brendon to feature in more than the occasional cameo.

100 Moments, 100 Memories: The Wanderers in 2012/13 (Part One)

As we rapidly approach the beginning of a new A-League season and the exciting prospect of more achievement from the Western Sydney Wanderers, I think it’s only proper to take a look back at what marked out the special nature of the first full season of the Wanderers. To that end I have been posting what I consider to be the Top 100 highlights for the Wanderers over the 2012/13 season on my Twitter feed (@thoughtsofAGM), and will be continuing this right up to the kick-off at Blue Tongue Stadium in Gosford at 5.30PM on Saturday 12th October, when the team and supporters will be looking for some degree of revenge over the Central Coast Mariners.

Please feel free to comment or query these selections, and I am happy to admit that all these entries are very subjective (and to be honest could be in a different order that I have listed below). Today I am looking at those highlights ranked 100 to 91:

100: Mateo Poljak’s first goal for the Wanderers, against Adelaide United in Round 19

As one of the foreign players recruited to the Wanderers Matteo Poljak formed a significant part of the midfield defence during 2012/13, however he wasn’t always satisfied with stopping the opposition’s goals. As shown in the third match against AUFC  during 2012/13, and the second away game for WSW at Hindmarsh Stadium Poljak was a deft hand when it came to getting forward and helping with the attack. In what was another drubbing for the Reds at the hands of the Wanderers Poljak’s goal took the game out of the home side’s reach, with the final score 4-2.

99. The RBB’s Tifos at the second Sydney Derby

In a stark reminder of the neglect that Sydney FC had shown towards the western suburbs during the pre-Wanderers era of the A-League the Red & Black Bloc eloquently yet simply reminded everyone of where the supporters for the new team came from.

98. Yianni Perkatis makes his senior Wanderers debut against Newcastle Jets, Round 27

With the Wanderers under the pump in terms of injuries and suspensions, the final match of teh regular A-League season saw the team travel to the Jets home ground without Aaron Mooy and his nominal replacement Iacopo La Rocca. Coach Tony Popovic elevated WSW National Youth League midfielder Yianni Perkatis into the starting line-up and the 19 year old showed great potential in his debut. Though slight of frame his stamina and speed was up to the task, and at times he showed that in future years he can regularly slot into the Wanderers’ senior team.

97. Jerome Polenz’s goal-saving tackle against Melbourne Victory, Round 21

During the amazing 11 game winning streak for the Wanderers the backbone of this achievement was the back four of D’Apuzzo, Topor-Stanley, Beauchamp and Polenz. If ever these four defenders earned their salary it was in the away game down at AAMI Stadium against the Melbourne Victory in round 21. Time and again Ange’s men probed at the goal and in what was one of the most freakish defensive achievements of the game and season German right back Jerome Polenz denied Andrew Nabbout a certain score with a sliding tackle that cleanly took the ball within mere microseconds from beating goalie Antie Covic. Polenz came away from this 2-1 victory for the Wanderers a much deserved man of the match For more on this moment (which on reflection deserves to be much higher) visit http://redandblackgif.com/

96. Kwabena Appiah-Kubi comes back to the western suburbs and joins the Wanderers

As one of numerous young football players cultivated by the junior ranks of western Sydney, fleet-footed right wing player Kwabena Appiah-Kubi was one of the first to be signed to the Wanderers. By season’s end he had become a very useful back-up for his senior colleague Youssouf Hersi.

95. The B-Team and their Nikolai Topor-Stanley skit

Probably the funniest moment off-field for the Wanderers during 2012/13 was this clever take on NTS and his booming clearances:

94. The first ever a-League away game for the Western Sydney Wanderers, Round 2

As early as this game against Adelaide at Hindmarsh the Wanderers defence demonstrated that it would frustrate more fancied teams in 2012/13. Although the Reds won 1-0 the game showed portents of future solidity within Tony Popovic’s defensive structures.

93. Julia Gillard visits the Wanderers

When considering the birth of the Western Sydney Wanderers hopefully someone will accord the Adelaide raised and Melbourne based Labor PM the honour of being one of the most crucial midwives for the club. Without Julia Gillard’s agreement to the initial funding proposal for the Wanderers in conjunction with the FFA it would have been well nigh impossible for the Wanderers to have been launched when and how they were. During her March 2013 campaign to woo the voters of western Sydney (prior to her dumping as PM) Gillard came to a Wanderers training session (and figured in one of the funniest photos of the season):

92. Kevin Sheedy loses the plot and floats the conspiracy theory against the Wanderers

If ever two sports clubs were utterly different in terms of core values, community connection and success the Western Sydney Wanderers and the AFL’s ‘frankenstein’ imposition of the ill-named GWS Giants are the most powerful examples of such a contrast. As the Wanderers debut season earned plaudits, garnered major success on and off the field and became without doubt the best Australian sports story of the the last two years, the self-promoting Melburnian Kevin Sheedy was reduced to railing against the migrant background of the very area he was trying to win over (and failing to do so) with his impotent franchise. the manner in which Lyall Gorman and the club responded to the thinly veiled xenophobia of Sheedy and the rejection of what he and his club represented to western Sydney was a stark reminder of how powerful football passions were in favour of the Wanderers’ first season.

91. Tony Popovic knocks back Michael Ballack

Much of the gossip pre-season regarding the Wanderers debut marquee player featured on German star and ex-EPL and Bundesliga player Michael Ballack. Whilst many people (including the author of this post) were keen to see Ballack come down under and don the red and black Tony Popovic and the club decided in the end that Ballack was not who was needed, and instead the Japanese legend Shinjo Ono was brought to WSW. In terms of Ballack’s response to this decision (his almost immediate retirement) and the achievements of Ono both on and off teh field, there can be no doubt that Popa and the Wanderers’ management got this major decision 100% correct.