What a difference five weeks makes for the Western Sydney Wanderers and their fans.
From the optimism of promising signings to developments of the training ground and a 10-year anniversary, to a coach admitting he doesn’t have the answers to solve his side’s issues in the wake of a third straight defeat.
And in the wake of the Wanderers’ listless 2-0 defeat to the Central Coast Mariners that has made Carl Robinson a dead man walking, an already bubbling situation boiled over when Patrick Zwaanswijk lambasted Robinson and CEO John Tsatsimas.
“I once coached for this proud and fantastic supported club and because of two of the most mentioned names in the comments I am no longer there. Unfortunately no club identity…”, the former coach of their NPL side tweeted last Saturday.
He also alleged that some promising youngsters from the academy such as Ali Auglah had left the club and football altogether due to their treatment by Robinson.
His claims were supported by former A-League Women’s coach Dean Heffernan, who alleged that Tsatsmas and General Manager of Football Operations Gavin Costello had created a toxic environment within the club.
“JT and Gavin Costello have created the most toxic environment I’ve seen in 20 years of football” Heffernan’s tweet said, “I was an empty shell at that place”, he continued in another tweet.
The revelations infuriated the Wanderers fanbase, which was already irate due to the team’s poor start to the season. Fans on social media directed their anger towards Robinson, Tsatsimas and Costello.
After making grand assertions that the goals this season was to win silverware, one league win in five and being knocked out of the FFA Cup by NPL side APIA Leichhardt has meant that Robinson’s position has become more or less untenable. His inability to choose a tactical setup that suits his players despite hand-picking them is perplexing and ultimately his undoing.
However, any hopes that a change of coach would be the magic bullet to help fix their season now seem unrealistic.
Of course, Western Sydney’s lack of success over the past four seasons has indicated that something is amiss. The club has failed to reach the finals in the past four seasons; for context, every other A-League Men’s club has reached the finals in that time. They have also gone through four permanent head coaches, highly likely going to reach five in the not too distant future.
A consistent point of contention that has once again reared its head is the fact that there continues to be no Director of Football type figure at the club to shape a consistent vision and philosophy on the pitch. Costello may have received criticism from Heffernan, but it is understood that his role is more of an administrative role and not directly related to the football side of things.
This has meant that not only is recruitment solely led by the manager, but that each manager that has come in has different ideas and styles of play. This has led to a high rate of player’s arriving and leaving at the club, becoming a running joke in A-League circles.
Whilst this may make the manager’s happy as they have full autonomy on their signings, it is highly reliant on their prowess to construct teams that can function effectively. None of Tony Popović’s successors have been able to achieve these very feats.
However, there is a distinct possibility that the supposed ‘toxic culture’ embedded within the club could be a large impediment to any manager creating a platform for success off the pitch at the Wanderers.
The club thus far has remained tight-lipped on the situation; refusing to respond to the accusation and instead taking a code of silence. A silence that is becoming increasingly deafening in the current climate.
Their embattled manager, however, has hit out at the claims made by Zwaanswijk and Heffernan. Speaking to AAP, he stated that he “loves” the current environment that he is working in, and claims that he only worked with the pair on a limited basis.
Despite these words, the situation is still murky and will remain so until someone, be it Tsatsimas or owner Paul Lederer, make a statement on the situation.
Some fans have criticised Lederer for allowing the malaise to happen under his watch. However, Heffernan claims that Lederer was ‘unaware’ of the issues behind the scenes, and Zwaanswijk praised Lederer for his passion and commitment to the club. There have also been successes under Lederer, albeit away from the pitch. The club now boasts world-class training and academy facilities, was key in brokering for a state of the art stadium in Parramatta, and is one of the best run clubs in the country from a financial and commercial standpoint.
However, within in the minds of many fans this success is rendered pointless if on-field success is not mirrored.
The Wanderers are staring down the barrel of yet another wasted season, this time with a vastly improved squad. With the allegations of a toxic culture emerging in the public domain, it is an issue that can be no longer ignored or swept under the carpet.
An internal review – as has been conducted in the past – won’t cut it. There has to be a wide-scale investigation into the running of the football department at the club, and at the very least, install a Director of Football or similar so that the haphazard approach to managerial appointments and signings stops.
Prominent journalist Vince Rugari best surmised the plight of the Wanderers in the wake of their 2-0 defeat to Macarthur. “The club is lost in a footballing sense”, he tweeted, and he is exactly on the money.
The club is sitting rudderless as it threatens to veers from one version of mediocrity to another. A club that once helped revitalise and grow the A-Leagues with its success, is now the anchor that is holding back its rebirth.
Zwaanswijk said the only identity the club had left was its passionate and loyal supporter base. If the Wanderers fail to restore a semblance of order and direction, many of these fans could abandon ship for good.