HARD TO HIT HOME RUN IN WILDERNESS
Gombau’s biggest problem: he’s not Tony Popovic
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