Wandering Off Course, Or How The Good Times Soured

Up until the news broke about the pay dispute I would suggest almost every member and fan of the Wanderers thought that our club was different. I know I was guilty of feeling that things were going to be far rosier for us than they have been at other A-League clubs, in part due to our success, in part due to the people I know personally or indirectly online as fellow supporters, and in part due to the gap in the way the club’s administration and playing stocks were nominally managed and what was seen elsewhere (particularly Sydney FC). There was obviously the warm inner glow of having achieved so much in our first two seasons as a functioning, successful, competitive club domestically and indeed internationally. A Premier’s title in our first season, longest streak for successive wins in the A-League also wrought back in 2012/13, two Grand Finals and of course the historic AFC Champions’ League title all created a remarkable record to build expectations and support upon. The growth in membership, starting from zero back in 2013, to over 18,000, and by association the continued acknowledgment of the RBB as being one of the best supporter groups in the country, has fueled that belief. It’s hard not to get pumped when you read comments like this from the CEO of the FFA:

“(David) Gallop says the Wanderers have changed the landscape of Australian sport, partly due to their fan group the Red and Black Bloc.

” “Australian sport has never seen the level of engagement inside stadiums like they create,” Gallop said.

” “I love the story of the grandmother that hands out throat lozenges in the RBB. They’ve definitely been a shot in the arm for the entire A-League and I think they’ve been a critical part in football’s booming popularity because people have sat up and taken notice of the A-League in some way because of the Wanderers, and that’s only going to get bigger and bigger in the decades to come. (source)”

Additionally, there had been the a wonderful relationship built between the club and its supporters best exemplified by the words and deeds of two people, Lyall Gorman and Jerrad Tyson. Gorman, our former club CEO, made a point of again and again drawing a distinct connection between the values of the club and the community it represents, as seen in words such as these:

“…that is, to contribute to the greater good of Western Sydney. If it was ever about me, we’d be in trouble as a club – and you know, I’d have no value so it’s never about me trying to put my profile out there. It’s about making sure our club is visible, but in a positive way so that it’s seen to be a community asset. It’s about making a difference and adding value….to be involved in supporting activities that are put on by other people in the community that are working hard. I think we have, you know, a corporate responsibility to be out there critically involved in our community.” (source)

And these

“We really empowered the community to have a sense of ownership of the club. We stand on their shoulders here today and I’m privileged in the role of group CEO to have 47 years of people working and sowing and making the fertile ground for this football club.

“There’s a rich history there which we can’t afford to do anything but embrace and stand on their shoulders. They’re the true pioneers of the game and … we need to engage and embrace (them), and if they’re not in the tent, bring them back into the tent. That was the call we learned at the Wanderers.’’ (source)

Obviously some of this may have been seen as marketing spin, however I know from a personal conversation with Lyall he believed in this mantra.

Then there is our ex-reserve goalkeeper Jerrad Tyson. Even as recently as the home leg final for the AFC Champion’s League Jerrad was there to support the club and the players, amid the heart and soul of the club, the RBB:

The awarding of the ME Bank Fairer Player Award for 2013/14 to Jerrad was also a signal of his engagement with the Wanderers community, and perhaps it was all the more remarkable that the prize was given to a man who stood more often than not in the shadows of regular goalie Ante Covic. It could be said that his efforts off the pitch were more appreciated by those of the Wanderers’ fan base and membership community because he was willing and able to be just like so many of us; working hard behind the scenes without that much recognition. I don’t believe it would be too bold to argue that Tyson was a wonderful example of the Western Sydney spirit (which was even more remarkable considering his Queenslander heritage).

Now at this point I need to stop waxing lyrical about the past and trying to fill in the gaps between my hypothesis of how the Wanderers were nominally different because of the behaviours of the club in, for and with the community, to focus on the here and now. To be blunt, those ideals of past values and of a sense of being better or different to our rivals are now badly fractured. There is a new cold reality that all Wanderers fans must deal with. We are no longer the fairy tale of Australian, or indeed international football, with a romantic or mythic narrative, where we win more often than not, we are able to shrug off adversity, and remain united across all groups, whether we talk about players, owners or fans. The Wanderers are now a football club that can in many ways be hardly distinguished from hundreds from around the world. The last week or so of pay disputes, of mainstream and social media battles, of members arguing vociferously for or against aspects of the owners’ or players’ behaviours, means we have now (for want of a better phrase) grown up and had a hard, bitter lesson in the reality of the business of football. To top it off the first match for the Wanderers of the Club World Cup match against Cruz Azul pointed out some limitations to what can be achieved by this club, no matter how much we believe in its core values and qualities.

I don’t want to cast aspersions or throw mindless accusations out there, and if my narrative of the issues  at hand are a bit skew-whiff I apologise. It must be said however that the intransigence of management (either directly or indirectly influenced by the club owners) when negotiating with the players has been a brewing issue for some time now, and has arguably been around since at least the beginning of this year. The manner in which gifted and crucial overseas players from our first season Shinji Ono, Jerome Polenz and Youssouf Hersi were rumoured to have been dealt with when it came to extending and/or improving their contracts back in the middle of last season were not dissimilar to what was experienced by the current player group. If this story that circulated around the time of Shinji Ono’s contract not being extended is true there already was a worrying refusal or neglect of negotiations with the players from the administration, prior to the sale of the Wanderers to the Paul Lederer led group. The combination of management waiting until the last minute to resolve contract issues and the players waiting for a response sounds eerily familiar to those problems raised in the recent troubles.

When the news broke on December 6th that the players were considering a boycott of the Club World Cup in Morocco there was without doubt some serious debate and consternation among the members and fans. As seen below, the opinions ranged from pissed off over the owners’ attitudes, worry about either the squad actually playing at the CWC, and if they did what impact the dispute would have,  concerns about the finances of the club, the role of the PFA and mistakes they may have made, and even talk about greedy players and writing off the current a-League season:


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These posts from the core Wanderers fan forum were indicative of what became a very divisive issue for those in the stands, whilst at Wanderland, at the club’s HQ and even throughout the broader football community battle lines were drawn over the rights of the players to expect the bonuses they received after their AFC Champions’ League triumph to be replicated at the CWC. Shannon Cole, a player who has formed part of the bank of rotated reserves usually used by Tony Popovic when a first choice right or left back is unavailable or needs a rest, took up the cudgels for the players with management in his role as PFA delegate, and there was plenty of support for him and the players expressed across the entire A-League:

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At this point I have to state that I personally was in favour of the demands of the players to get more than the 10% originally offered. However there were some caveats that needed to apply, particularly in terms of the PFA and the players using the Adelaide 2008 experience as a paradigm for payments, plus the belief that a better bonus structure was assumed to be in place based on the players’ CBA, when in all honesty the CWC bonus arrangement should’ve been stipulated from the get-go.

Where things really did go off the rails for most fans and members of the Wanderers is that for the first time they saw their beloved club’s owners behave in what might be considered in some quarters a capricious and rude way, and in other people’s opinions, they acted like fiscally prudent businessmen protecting the club’s future. The latter motive was self-consciously integrated into the Wanderers’ management’s reply to the brouhaha as it developed, as seen in their statement issued on Monday 8th December. By talking about the difference between player’s appearance money and bonuses, and the desire to invest 90% of the CWC ‘residual amounts’ into “the purposes of enhancing and improving current training and player facilities, as well as junior academy, community, indigenous and women’s programs“, the owners and managers of the Wanderers were putting it out there that the players were effectively robbing the club of long term future investments, even though they had been the agents of achieving the success in the first place.

All this talk was to some extent acceptable as part of the argy-bargy of any wage negotiation, as seen both inside and outside the world of football. As Craig Foster said both on TV and in his weekly Sun Herald column the issue was not necessarily about the here and now, but instead a fight that players of his generation and even older had had to deal with back in 1997, or earlier immediately before the 1974 World Cup Finals. That aspect tapped into other streams of discontent or dispute, but straight away any long term football fan in this country who was now associated with the Wanderers could see an end to the ‘unique difference’ our club had. The likes of Lederer and his associates as owners of the Wanderers were following the spirit, if not the exact same practices, of the preceding suits and backroom staff at other clubs or indeed nationally in Australia’s football history.

To be honest, it has come as a rude shock to many who have sworn to always stay faithful to the red and black, that these behaviours have now tainted what was supposed to be the best new phenomenon to hit our sport in this country. It could be said that what was worse about the dispute, before its resolution on December 12th was that the owners and managers of the Wanderers put themselves into the same basket from a public perception as the likes of Nathan Tinkler, Tony Sage, Tony Pignata and the unlamented ex-Gold Coast United owner Clive Palmer. At a time when the club should’ve been celebrating the achievement of making the Club World Cup it was embroiled in a sticky situation made nasty by the simple irritant of the club’s authorities being uncommunicative. For those of us who have relied on the mantra first propagated by the likes of Lyall Gorman, as featured above, or indeed by Paul Lederer himself, it was a bit of a kick in the guts:

“I have been a director of the club for the past two years and I’ve had the privilege to play a part and see first-hand what makes this club so special,” he said.

“The consortium has responsibility to ensure the Wanderers have a sound financial base and a strong administration so the club can continue to grow and be successful on and off the field.” (Paul Leder, ABC Grandstand, 14/5/14)

What made the Wanderers special up until the pay dispute was not the minutiae of fiscal responsibility or indeed the players’ personalities and achievements (though these aspects did help). What was different for old hands or new bandwagoners who threw in their lot with the Western Sydney Wanderers was over the last few years the perception was we were not like Sydney FC with its bumbling troika of Traktavenko, Barlow and Pignata. Nor were we like the cheapskate, forever poor Mike Charlesworth owned Central Coast Mariners, the fractured, in-fighting, Tony Sage owned Perth Glory, or if one was to look overseas, like a Vincent Tan owned Cardiff City.

This disillusionment meant that coming into the Club World Cup some serious joy was taken out of the club;s achievements leading into the match, and has arguably soured the efforts of all for the remainder of the current A-League season. The impact on the medium and long-term future of the club is hard to assess, though it must be said that some existing players may be more keen to leave at the first appropriate opportunity than they may have been in the past, and it may mean potential recruits will look askance at the owners and managers and ponder if they will be treated as negligently. However most importantly those of us who have been on this fantastic ride over the last thirty odd months or part thereof have been sobered up, with some degree of our innocence gone. The Wanderers experience has soured somewhat, however its hopefully also a sign of our maturation, and a period of conflict to build from, not to pull apart.

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.

A Tale of Two Cities (Well, Half and Half of the Same One)

Saturday night saw Sydney’s first A-League derby game of the current season. For the fourth time the two clubs that represent the largest city in Australia in our premiere domestic football competition were going to face off, with every expectation of this most recent of fierce tribal rivalries in the A-League drawing a huge crowd to Allianz Stadium. The home team was at a disadvantage thanks to the non-appearance of their creative heart and soul, as Alessandro del Piero had been injured in last week’s submission to the Roar, however like any (supposedly) proud club they were expected to defend with honour and pride their own turf. The Western Sydney Wanderers, still barely out of their sophomore season build up had shown some tentative form in their first two games of 2013/14, and without defensive midfielder Aaron Mooy might have had some doubts cast on their ability to do the deed required. Instead…

Instead anyone who was there at the game, or watched from the comfort of their own home or a friendly pub, club or tavern would’ve seen two utterly divergent clubs, two teams and their associated fans who only have a postcode starting with 2 as a common factor. By game’s end it was like a football version of a bloodied and bedraggled mess of wounded, defeated soldiers after the battles of Stalingrad, Dien Bien Phu or El Alamein streaming away in utter disorder whilst the rampant invading forces time and time again showed their superiority, both in and out of the arena. Sydney FC capitulated in a way that underscores the cultural, tactical and morale crisis that is haunting that club, whilst everything associated with the Wanderers, whether it be the players, the supporters, the admin staff looked inviolate, unstoppable, all-encompassing.

It must be said that at the very beginning of the game the Sydney FC faithful (a diminishing band no doubt) made a vainglorious attempt at asserting some pride and passion on behalf of their club, but from thereon even this misguided and ill-informed attempt at asserting tribal prominence seemed overshadowed by anything and everything in red and black. On the main field of combat the Wanderers players assumed control very early and barely looked threatened. The first goal came from a magnificent dead ball cross from Shinji Ono, which was connected with by a sweet header from Italian midfielder Iacopo La Rocca and hence went arrow-like into the back of SFC’s net. Within a few moments of this 12th minute goal Youssouf Hersi had nominally taken the Wanderers up to 2-0 however the linesman correctly called an off side, however within a quarter of an hour the Japanese Tensai struck again with what must be considered one of his best in red and black. At this point I feel it important to state what should be obvious except to any one-eyed fan of ADP; Shinji Ono is the best overseas marquee player to have played in the A-League in the last couple of seasons and alongside Thomas Broich and perhaps Dwight Yorke has done more for the success of both their respective clubs and the domestic comp than any other import. I recognise and appreciate the importance and genius of ADP within an incredibly faulty and disconnected SFC structure, but being a sole hand of quality in a dysfunctional situation is more readily seen than being excellent within a better than competent squad. Shinji Ono is not necessarily vital for the Wanderers to be successful, however he has been able to both sit within a holistic or organic team vision that is more often successful than not, yet when necessary take the lead and stimulate the very best from his team mates. It’s the difference between being an ace among rookies and being a leading professor among learned scholars. Shinji inspires and is inspiring, and whilst he is a fulcrum for the Wanderers he is also not above his station as a cog in the red and black machine. He is a champion in a team of champions.

For most of the derby’s first half the Wanderers looked in control, with Hersi, Juric, Polenz, Poljak, Ono and La Rocca being at their best. From the shambolic ranks of Sydney FC only Petkovic could arguably hold his head above his Adam’s apple, with his shot on Covic’s goal rattling the woodwork. The same terrors of incompetent defending that haunted SFC last week returned and particularly in the battle on the right flank Hersi toyed with the underwhelming Warren. In what might be considered an inverse relationship almost everything attempted by the Wanderers was met with an equal amount of wastefulness from the home team. Nicky Carle who has a reputation for style and flair looked out of touch, whilst Adam D’Apuzzo (the most flawed player in the WSW ranks in the last couple of weeks) came back with a vengeance. No longer hirsuite Nikolai Topor Stanley and Mark Bridge demonstrated that clean shaven or not they were superior to their opposite numbers, whilst  Tomi Juric reminded everyone that he has so much potential; a semi-formed talent that needs a little more polish from Popovic. Jerome Polenz was aggressive in defence and insightful in attack, and by half time the myth that Sydney is supposedly sky blue was utterly debunked.

Now as this point I would like to raise an issue that may or may not be germane to the club culture at Sydney FC, or the structures and fan base. However I could not fail to notice the lack of any major numbers on the field at half time of small children playing short games for entertainment and the experience. There was to my count only one micro-contest between the littlies at Allianz at half time, which may be a one off situation. Perhaps the timings were wrong for junior teams to involve themselves in such a home game context, or perhaps Allianz, the SCG Trust and/or Sydney FC couldn’t find enough willing takers. Having seen plenty of wee tackers running around on the pitch at half time at Wanderland though I have to ask a question that may or may not be fair; where the fuck are the kids who are SFC’s future? When the little boys and girls come to Wanderland and play their small games for the enjoyment and the privilege of all involved they always have good numbers plus shout out their support for the Wanderers on leaving the pitch. It may be a moot question however there is a readily apparent pre-teen support basis for the Wanderers; Sydney FC seem to be at best hiding theirs.

The second half of the derby was unfortunately goal-less however there were plenty of opportunities for the Wanderers as Sydney FC’s squad continue to blunder along. I must say that Brendon Santalab looks to be settling in quite nicely with Popa’s squad. He had one major chance that was blown, however not only did he add some spice to the attacking options of the Wanderers he also didn’t look out of place combining with Jerome Polenz. Things did get a bit willing with the yellow cards flying thick and fast, and there was some egregious moments particularly from Warren and Carle. However amid all the disciplinary issues Ono, Bridge, Juric, Poljak and Polenz all had solid chances at scoring. On the other side of the coin aside from a shot direct to Ante Covic the Sky Blues failed to have any meaningful go-forward. Again and again they lost the ball in midfield, failed to cover their flanks or simply didn’t know where they were or what they were doing. When the final whistle came it was like euthanizing a terminally ill goldfish; Sydney FC flapped around out of their comfort zone then quietly passed into oblivion (for at least another round).

It’s only proper at this point to make a few points about the level of support shown in the stands for the two teams. It could be argued that it was for the first 10-20 minutes an even contest between the RBB and the Cove, which in itself is a Pyrrhic victory for the supposedly rusted on Sky Blues. In their ninth season and with premierships and championships behind them at their home ground the Cove should’ve been larger and louder from the start than their junior opponents. Instead by the middle of the first half there was a definite tailing off of the intensity of the active SFC support that was in direct correlation with both the on field impotence of their players and the growth in energy coming from the RBB. There was plenty of support for the Wanderers coming from non-active stands, and by the time came around for the Poznan not only were the RBB fully engaged there were plenty of bays and pockets of red and black supporters contributing from other parts of the stadium. The signal effect of the SFC’s supporters’ defeat was in the closing minutes of the game, where a consistent stream of departing fans from the sky blue bays exited Allianz. Contrasted with the spirit and passion shown by the Wanderers faithful after their most recent defeat at Allianz Stadium, where the vast majority remained behind post-whistle to commiserate with their team after the 2012/13 grand final, it was a pretty piss-poor demonstration from the self-proclaimed ‘best fans’ in the A-League.

So, whither the two clubs? For the Western Sydney Wanderers it would seem the immediate to mid-term future is theirs for the taking. The current squad is certainly better in terms of depth and achievement than that which was in place a year ago, and with such a solid support base that has translated into over 16,000 financial members and future sell-outs at their home ground even if they fail to win any titles this season they are streets ahead of arguably all other clubs in the A-League bar maybe Melbourne Victory. Tony Popovic has kept the team hungry and even with three good results there is still room to improve. It would need some kind of utterly unexpected disaster for the Wanderers to run off the rails. Culturally, professionally and from a spectator’s point of view they are building an empire in football’s heartland that would make every member of the FFA incredibly satisfied. Yes, the need to sell off the club is a process fraught with potential hazards but so far David Gallop and Lyall Gorman have shown astute leadership and good old common fucking sense. If the Western Sydney Wanderers realise their potential then we won’t be talking up the annual derbies between them and Sydney FC; the talk will be of Asian Champions’ League and maybe even greater.

Sydney FC on the other hand are in a hell of a bad pozzie. No one would deny that before the Wanderers came along they had every reason to be proud of what they achieved on the field for most of their short life. I’ve already pointed out their failings as a club that didn’t embrace all of Sydney as they have boasted, and those chickens have come home to roost most pointedly in the last 36 hours. What is more frightening for Sydney FC must be what does their club culture portend for the future? Alessandro del Piero’s absence in the derby was obviously an influence on the basic football brains of his co-players, and at his age with injury always more likely, or at least with his fitness needing careful safeguarding, there could be more non-ADP Sydney FC line ups as the season progresses. Then when he leaves at the end of this season will he take with him all the hype, revenue, on-park nous and appeal for a club that has essentially ridden on his back? Frank Farina and the rest of the coaching staff are patently failing in either their ability to guide their players, keep them fit or develop younger talents, and the fans of the Sky Blues are close to revolt over their continual incompetence (which in turn is damaging the reputation and management of Tony Pignata, Scott Barlow and David Traktavenko). The ‘Sydney is sky blue’ facade is as cracked as a dozen eggs placed under a hippo’s bum, and the continual questions over whether Sydney FC is a popular club or Bling FC eats at the heart of their raison d’etre (if in fact there is such a thing). If ever the FFA looks to expand the A-League with a reborn Wollongong club it is highly likely SFC would lose a significant reservoir of junior talent, and  the continual turn over in coaches will make them even less appealing to anyone foolhardy enough to take over if Farina gets dumped.  It would seem to me that Sydney FC has dug itself a hole through willful incompetence, delusion and overly-exaggerated expectations that has created a perfect shit-storm of misery. Joe Gorman’s article in The Guardian sum’s this up perfectly:

As much as he has boosted the profile of the A-League, off the pitch time is fast running out for Sydney FC to capitalise on his presence. He was rarely spotted in pre-season, and when he returns home at season’s end, the club is likely to be back at square one. How many of the new fans that came to see Del Piero play will hang around to watch Sydney FC in the long term, particularly considering the lacklustre football on display? Sadly, Sydney’s marquee player might be just another costly short term investment.
The lack of boardroom stability and vision has left the club in a perpetual state of flux, constantly agonising over whether to embrace or shelve the Bling FC tag they’ve been burdened with. They’ve flirted with stars and experimented with blue collar cred, but nothing has really ‘stuck.’ Perhaps the only consistent message has come from the home end in The Cove.
It is said that Sydney is a city that loves winners, but in a 10-team competition levelled out by the salary cap, no club can hope to hedge their future on success alone. There needs to be a more nuanced understanding and articulation of why Sydney FC exist, who they represent, and what they stand for. Otherwise, the Wanderers will win more than just the west.

In this A-League Tale of Two Cities everyone at Sydney FC is up for the guillotine and there is no nobility in their sacrifice; they have been a wastrel club whilst their new cross-town rivals have won all the plaudits, all the honour, all the recognition they have sought. The 2-0 win for the Wanderers was just a symbol of the clash of cultures that has coloured Sydney red and black.

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.