It was a bittersweet 2014-15 for Western Sydney Wanderers, lifting the Asian Champions League trophy but they suffered in the A-League, finishing second-last. Joey Ratcliffe looks at what will be a year of rejuvenation for the Wanderers.
Western Sydney Wanderers
Manager: Tony Popovic
Captain: Nikolai Topor-Stanley
Ins: Scott Neville (Newcastle Jets), Andrew Redmayne (Melbourne City), Dimas Delgado (Recr. Huelva), Scott Jamieson (Perth Glory), Andreu Guerao (Racing), Alberton Aguilar (Ponferradina), Jacob Pepper (Newastle Jets), Federico Piovaccari (Sampdoria), Dario Vidosic (FC Sion), Mitch Nichols (Cerezo Osaka), Josh MacDonald (Nottingham Forest)
Outs: Iacopo La Rocca (Adelaide United), Adrian Madaschi (released), Tomi Juric (Roda JC), Nick Ward (released), Nikita Rukavytsya (Beitar Jerusalem), Yianna Perkatis (Blacktown City), Ante Covic (Perth Glory), Anthony Golec (Perth Glory), Nick Kalmar (released), Kerem Bulut (Iraklis), Jason Trifiro (Melbourne City), Yojiro Takahagi (FC Seoul), Mateo Poljak (Newcastle Jets), Labinot Haliti (Newcastle Jets), Matthew Spiranovic (HZ Greentown)
Last Season: 9th
2014-15 was… A reality check for the league’s newest side after their first two seasons saw them make two grand finals and win a Premiership.
Of course, it wasn’t all bad news for the Wanderers last season as they were able to become the first Australian side to win the Asian Champions League, but that success came at the expense of league success.
The Wanderers didn’t taste their first victory of the season until February’s Round 16 when they upset the Wellington Phoenix in Penrith. They closed out the season with three more victories but only scraped out of the wooden spoon by a solitary point.
2014-15 will be… A year of rejuvenation.
The squad for this season is, basically, a brand new side. Of the 16 players that made the match-day squad for the 2014 Grand Final 17 months ago, only four remain – Topor-Stanley, Mark Bridge, Brendon Santalab and Shannon Cole.
Of the 18 from the Asian Champions League final 12 months ago, only seven remain – the aforementioned four and also Brendan Hamill, Dean Bouzanis and Daniel Alessi.
Of that list, only Topor-Stanley and Bridge could truly be considered starting players. This season is a whole new look Wanderers, which also may be the case for the crowd as well.
Over their first three season, the Wanderers fan base had been lauded for the atmosphere they created, but after a number of crowd incidents involving police, strict laws were imposed upon the Red and Black Bloc home-end. As a result, in-fighting has begun and a new group has been created that will form as an alternative to the RBB – West Sydney Terrace.
This year will be a massive turning point for the club on and off the field. Can the new players adapt to Popovic’s style and prosper once again in the A-League? And can the club unite a disgruntled fan base?
As many fan base problems can be the result of poor on-field performances, a strong showing by the players would possibly see the crowd at Pirtek Stadium roar as one again.
Even though the Wanders were able to have such success in their first season with a new squad, this season might not see the same results: lightning doesn’t strike twice.
Key Player: Federico Piovaccari. The Italian, who played with Eibar in La Liga last season, could become one of the league’s best-ever strikers.
At just under six-foot, Piovaccari isn’t the biggest but the broad-shouldered striker is an imposing figure on the park. He has been a regular goal-scorer throughout his career and can bring a lot of quality to Pirtek.
The Wanderers need goals as well. Only Mark Bridge and Tomi Juric have scored more than 10 goals a season for Western Sydney and, with Popovic’s deep, counter-attacking style, a true poacher could profit immensely from his system.
What, or whom, do Western Sydney need? Chemistry. When Popovic first put together a Wanderers side, many predicted they would find the going tough due to the calibre of players he had signed.
However, Popovic proved one of two thing – or both: he has an eye for talent that others never saw or he can get the most out of players.
At times last season, it never looked like the Wanderers were clicking or could get out of second gear. Maybe the rest of the league worked them out or perhaps they missed talisman Shinji Ono.
Either way, it was the understanding between players that the Wanderers fed on. Fast ball movement underpinned by the awareness of teammates. If they can find that again this year, they will return to finals football.
But they face a long road ahead of them.
The Blog FC Predicted Finish: 7th