The A-League’s newest club has certainly turned heads, but are they set for a season in the shadow of their free-spending rivals? Matt Tilby examines the Western Sydney Wanderers.
Earlier this year, when Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced the Australian Government would be helping to fund football, including a new A-League club, in the Western Sydney area, many knew it would spell the end of Gold Coast United. Part of the previous instalment of expansion clubs, United was haemorrhaging money, and despite the best efforts of the general public, Football Federation Australia closed the club down.
Eyebrows were raised. Why would the FFA place their faith in yet another expansion club, in an area already dominated by Rugby League and Aussie Rules Football? Why were solid bids from Tasmania and Canberra overlooked, especially when Canberra housed a pretty successful W-League team and provided a safe platform to start a mens team on? Needless to say, the beginning of the Western Sydney franchise got off to an inauspicious start.
Having put all that aside, the club began to form. With the name of the club – The Wanderers – being chosen through a public vote, and the snazzy Nike kits unveiling the team’s colours, the squad took shape. Having already snatched players from other A-League clubs, such as goalkeeper Ante Covic from Melbourne Victory, and veteran defender Michael Beauchamp from rivals Sydney FC, the Wanderers brought home hotly tipped Socceroo Aaron Mooy from SPL side St. Mirren. The 22 year old is widely seen as one of Australia’s best young players and should he perform for Western Sydney, a full Socceroos call up shouldn’t be far away, considering how dire the straits the Socceroos are in.
However, apart from these three, the rest of the squad does look a bit hurried together. Most of these players, while having A-League experience, were cut from their respective clubs so it doesn’t bode well for these players. But obviously, it will take time for the club to be successful. For example, Greater Western Sydney, the expansion Aussie Rules side, who joined the competition this year, fielded one of the youngest sides in the competition’s history. While they were soundly beaten in most of the games they played, they won a handful of games and will most likely improve with experience. This would almost certainly be the same for the Wanderers, with players like Kwabena Appiah-Kubi and Jason Trifiro in the side, yet to play a single A-League game.
However, having seen their local rivals Sydney FC sign Juventus legend Alessandro del Piero, in what is seen as the biggest signing in Australian football, and Newcastle Jets sign former England striker Emile Heskey, the Wanderers have been trying to ensure they don’t fall behind in this constant game of one-upmanship. The attempted signing of former Chelsea and Germany star Michael Ballack has proven they’re not afraid t get their hands dirty.
However, the last few months haven’t been without controversy for the league’s newest club, with parts of their supporters group, dubbed the “Red and Black Bloc” causing a bit of trouble at Sydney FC games. This early bickering, while an attempt to assert themselves and make their voice heard, could easily have come back to bite them on the backside.
In addition, football fans were shocked to hear of the club’s attempt to cover up the statue of rugby league legend Ray Price that sits outside the club’s new home of Parramatta Stadium, originally the home of the Parramatta Eels rugby league club. While the FFA did make a valid point – they want the stadium to “feel more like a football stadium”, they have to remember that while they are now new co-tenants of the stadium, they should probably respect the history that exists where they now play. It’s also mightily disrespectful to the man himself.
But all this is just the tip of the iceberg. Come October 6th, the Wanderers will play their first A-League game against the Central Coast Mariners. It’ll be the start of an interesting maiden season, as they look to hit the ground running and give their more fancied Sydney rivals a real shock. Will they be successful this season? Who knows. It’ll be fun to watch though.