Failing to finish in the finals has proven fatal for Josep Gombau as the Spanish coach was sacked by the Western Sydney Wanderers this morning.
After just 5 months and 13 days since his first game in charge, having been appointed in the wake of Tony Popovic's shock abandonment of the club a week before the season start, the Wanderers board elected to punt the charismatic Spaniard out of a job that he had been given a 3 year contract for. Gombau's tenure was dogged by pundits both in print & television hounding every move he made, with every substitution met with cries of player feuds and his best unbeaten run of games of 4 games between January 1st and January 13 was not enough to keep the wolves at bay.
Gombau had to take charge of an ill-disciplined, unfit and woefully under-performing playing squad and his attempt to rebuild the team in his Catalan image was met with indifference, apathy or hostility from many in the the playing group. Hayden Foxe managing a 5 game unbeaten start to season papered over the cracks as he and Popovic before his exit saw a clear reliance on marquee Oriol Riera to save the team from embarrassment against Wellington & Blacktown City in the FFA Cup, while in the A-League the team were incapable of closing out matches strongly to hold onto wins, even against the Central Coast Mariners or teams playing a man down.
If the earliest results were less than inspiring, the 5-0 annihilation in the second Sydney Derby of the season drove home that the Gombau era would not be smooth sailing to begin with, or even that he would "get the best" out of an attack as penetrative as a tennis ball thrown against a brick wall, and a defence that had more holes in it than swiss cheese. A 4-0 loss not long after to Newcastle saw urgent meetings take place amongst the club officials & staff, and a desire to transition more slowly to Gombau's intended tactics appeared to pay dividends, as the team picked up wins against Melbourne City and Brisbane Roar.
That was unfortunately the peak of the Wanderers season, with back to back losses against Melbourne Victory & Perth Glory putting the side in danger of missing the finals series. A 3-0 win against Brisbane in the penultimate game of the regular season saw everything to play for against Gombau's former club Adelaide United, and yet they capitulated in a dismal 3-2 defeat, as Riera missed a penalty to bring the game level, and Keanu Baccus was sent off to kill his team's chances of playing in the finals.
Rumours of squad infighting that rose to multiple fights between team-mates, poor off-field behaviour that saw Chris Herd banished from the side, the exits of Hayden Foxe & Robbie Cornthwaite after a training ground argument along with the whisper campaign in the media all resulted in Gombau losing full control over his team, and despite sections of the Wanderers supporter base wanting the club to see through the Gombau project, those who wanted a fresh direction have seen their hopes realised. The Wanderers board lost their patience with the "project manager", and Gombau was punted on Thursday morning.
What direction the board go in remains to be seen. Original target Ante Milicic may be looking for a job after Graham Arnold takes over the Australian national team post-world cup, while German manager Dirk Schuster may be available in the next few weeks should his side Darmstadt 98 be relegated from Bundesliga 2.
Ultimately, this season was a complete waste of time & money, and the blame lies squarely on the shoulders of John Tsatsimas and the ownership group fronted by Paul Lederer. Why on earth would any management team elect to bring in Gombau, a man who it was absolutely crystal clear would need time to implement his own style and bring in players that suited it, and then turn around and sack him 5 months later is inexplicable to me. If they really wanted to keep playing the same plodding, non-attacking style that Popovic had perfected before his exit, they should have told Popovic that it was too late to release him, or then let Foxe takeover until the end of this year.
Instead, the Board effectively stole the time & money of every single season ticket holder, to watch a club held together on the pitch by Riera & Janjetovic while those in between failed to provide the remotest sense of application and skill unless they were facing the very worst teams in the competition. And for what? The new manager is going to come into a club in crisis, another dozen squad positions to fill, and the sense that having sacked their last manager within 6 months that it could happen again before Christmas.
Good luck to whoever that is. You're going to need it.