HARD TO HIT HOME RUN IN WILDER­NESS

Gom­bau’s big­gest prob­lem: he’s not Tony Popovic

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - FOOTBALL - TOM SMITHIES FOOT­BALL ED­I­TOR

THE big­gest chal­lenge fac­ing Josep Gom­bau was al­ways go­ing to be the fact he isn’t Tony Popovic.

Re­plac­ing Western Syd­ney’s in­au­gu­ral coach is a task of un­do­ing as much as do­ing. Popovic’s style was im­bued through­out the club, to the de­gree that fol­low­ing it had be­come au­to­matic.

Un­pick­ing that stitch, and sewing a new pat­tern, has been painful at times and there re­main doubts over the strength of the new stitch­ing af­ter weeks of roller­coaster re­sults.

But the 41-year-old Cata­lan won’t change his meth­ods for any­one: play­ers, own­ers, let alone the me­dia. If the scru­tiny is lonely at times, the Wan­der­ers boss isn’t fazed.

“It’s the job, you are ex­posed,” he shrugs. “In this club we are in a build­ing process ev­ery­where; the new fa­cil­i­ties, the new sta­dium and a new style. When you build a sta­dium, even peo­ple who don’t un­der­stand (con­struc­tion) can see, you de­mol­ish and then build and it’s three years.

“When you want to change the way that you play, it doesn’t hap­pen in three months but peo­ple who don’t know foot­ball think it hap­pens like this.

“For now, we are not in our home. We play in two sta­di­ums (while Western Syd­ney Sta­dium is built), we don’t get the sup­port of all the peo­ple be­cause some of them are used to Par­ra­matta.

“The crowds are go­ing down, but it’s not be­cause we don’t play good foot­ball. For sure we are not win­ning but the (main) thing is we are not in our home.”

Cer­tainly the sea­son has been tu­mul­tuous since Popovic quit a week be­fore it started, cul­mi­nat­ing in the flares at last week­end’s derby which means part of Spot­less Sta­dium will be shut against Perth to­day.

Among the play­ing group, there have been mo­ments of dis­cord, too, and the words of for­mer cap­tain Robbie Corn­th­waite this week — that Gom­bau wants to be like a friend of the play­ers — draw a pointed re­sponse.

“That’s not an ad­jec­tive that de­scribes me,” Gom­bau says. “What I found when I came here is that the last coach is the boss, the way that he coached was by bring­ing ev­ery­thing that the play­ers need to do.

“My­self, I am not this kind of coach. I think they need to take re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. If you are a pro­fes­sional player, I don’t need to con­trol ev­ery part of your life.

“I ex­pect that, as a pro­fes­sional, you will do the things you need. If, af­ter­wards, you don’t then we will have a ‘chat’. In­side the field it is the same. I can bring some pat­terns but as a player you need to have cre­ativi- ty and freedom to do things. Ev­ery coach is dif­fer­ent but to de­scribe my­self as a friend of the play­ers? No, it’s not like af­ter train­ing I go with them for din­ner. I saw Robbie’s in­ter­view. He was a player who wanted to leave be­cause he didn’t like the way we wanted to play, but it’s not im­por­tant be­cause he’s not here any­more.”

Gom­bau con­cedes that, ask­ing his play­ers to change their style and tac­tics amid the glare of the sea­son left some of them “ner­vous” and “feel­ing ex­posed”.

“As an ex­am­ple, some­thing that sounds sim­ple,” he says. “When the team loses the ball be­fore, they would drop and de­fend in front of the goal. Now we go on and press high. This sim­ple thing is quite dif­fer­ent.”

It’s fas­ci­nat­ing how many of the play­ers Gom­bau had at Ade­laide are vocal sup­port­ers of his meth­ods. His own belief cer­tainly hasn’t wa­vered.

“I know I have a job where you are ex­posed to ev­ery­one’s opinions and some­times you will get crit­i­cisms,” he says. “Some- times peo­ple can only see the re­sult of one game, they can­not see what is com­ing or the progress you make ev­ery week.

“As a coach, if I say it doesn’t af­fect you at all, that’s not true. For a mo­ment you think, ‘why have they writ­ten this’? But I have a clear idea of where I want to be in one year.

“I trust in my­self be­cause I did it be­fore in Ade­laide and Hong Kong. It’s not some­thing I just woke up and de­cided to do. I know the steps we need and we are al­ready in a good way be­cause we do things faster than I asked.

“You can see, I never will change any­thing be­cause I get crit­i­cised. At the end, I know how to achieve and get to the place we want to be.’’

When you want to change the way that you play,

it doesn’t hap­pen in three months but peo­ple who don’t know foot­ball think it hap­pens like this

Wan­der­ers coach Josep Gom­bau G b dur­ing d i the th Western Syd­ney Syd Wan­der­ers-Bris­bane Wd Bib Roar R A-League AL match at ANZ Sta­dium in Jan­uary. Picture: Brett Costello

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