Okon backs the west’s Wanderers
One of Western Sydney’s greatest-ever football products has thrown his support behind the region’s new A-League club.
Few footballers have stronger links to Western Sydney than former Socceroo Paul Okon. Okon grew up in Bossley Park, attended Patrician Brothers’ College Fairfield and played his junior football for Marconi.
In 1991 Okon left the Stallions for a glittering playing career in Europe that included stints in Belgium, Italy, England and Cyprus. The talented sweeper or midfielder returned to Australia in 2006 and played a season for the Newcastle Jets in the A-League before retiring.
Despite an injury-plagued career, Okon managed 28 appearances for the Socceroos and is regarded by many as one of the finest players to ever pull on the green and gold.
Okon is full of praise and hope for the new Western Sydney Wanderers side.
“I’ve fallen in love with the colours already,” he said.
“There isn’t a person [in the region] who doesn’t think the same, and if they don’t, they’re nuts. It’s a great logo.”
“I may be a little bit biased, but I’m so excited that finally there’s a team there. I know there’s been a lot of criticism early doors on the timeframe, but you know, it’s never perfect.”
It’s early days in the history of the Wanderers but the club has already won plaudits for its name, which links to the game’s past, and the classy logo. The colours have been taken from the region’s associations and it has already engaged its fan-base through town hall meetings and online surveys.
Western Sydney products and ex-Socceroos Tony Popovic and Ante Milicic have been named as the club’s head coach and assistant coach. However, so far the Wanderers has signed just nine players with the new season three months away.
Okon believes with the axing of Gold Coast, if the A-League went to a nine team competition after seven years, it would have been “atrocious”.
“I think it’s [the Wanderers] moving along well. They’ve got a very good, young coach,” he said.
“They’ve got a good coaching staff, technical staff. I think they’re on the right track combining experienced players with some good young players and I think like any other A-League team at the end of the day a lot will come down to the qualities of their foreign players. So hopefully Poppa will sign some good players to fill those positions, and really give that quality to the team that they need.”
Okon advocates the Wanderers signing the right foreign player that doesn’t break the bank, pointing to the likes of Brisbane Roar’s Thomas Broich. It is believed the FFA has ruled out the Wanderers signing a big-name marquee in its first season.
“When you look at Thomas Broich, I don’t think he’s the marquee player at Brisbane,” he said.
“That’s a perfect example that it’s not a necessity and that there are a lot of good players abroad that don’t cost you crazy money. It’s a question of having the right network of people looking for those players and bringing them in and hopefully, Western Sydney will make the right choices for those positions.”
Since retiring in 2007 Okon has become a coach and had stints as an assistant to Miron Bleiberg at Gold Coast United, and as head of the Australian under-18 team. Earlier this year the 40-year-old was named as joint head coach of the Young Socceroos and Olyroos.
The Wanderers have named Parramatta Stadium as their main stadium but may look to play matches at other arenas around western Sydney. Okon said there is the issue of “what’s west, what’s not west, what’s south-west”, but believes it is important for the new club to have a home.
“I think wherever it is, it’s not going to satisfy everyone completely but I think you need to have a base. And whether or not they play one or two games in other stadiums,” he said.
“You need to have one home where everyone can identify with, where the players feel like its their home stadium, that’s important. I think a lot of people don’t realise that players like to play on their home ground, it always gives you an advantage and if your swapping grounds every time you play, at home, you don’t build that foundation against opposition teams.”
According to media speculation, Okon is in the running to have a stand at Parramatta Stadium named after him for the A-League season. The likes of Mark Schwarzer, Zeljko Kalac, Harry Kewell, Attila Abonyi, Peter Ollerton, Graham Arnold and Robbie Slater are also being considered, with Mark Bosnich thought to be a frontrunner for one of the stands.
Australian football pioneer Johnny Warren will be honoured by being named after one of the two main stands.
“It’s the first I’ve heard of it,” Okon said.
“While it would be an honour to have that, I’m definitely not in this game for that sort of recognition. Again, it would be great. Mark Bosnich is a very good friend of mine so it would also make me proud to have the stand named after him just as much as myself.”
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