Gombau and Lowe: A tale of two sackings

Evan Morgan Grahame Columnist

By Evan Morgan Grahame, Evan Morgan Grahame is a Roar Expert

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    Kenny Lowe brough Perth no glory. (AAP Image/Theron Kirkman)

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    Well, as is often the case with the four A-League teams who fail to make the finals, the culling has begun.

    Dozens of players will be cut from rosters – many of them, inevitably, to be picked up by the teams who will not make the finals next season – but the exodus doesn’t end with the playing staff.

    Paul Okon and Darije Kalezic had arranged – and in Okon’s case, executed – their departures from Central Coast and Wellington respectively before this week, but the two other managers of the remaining finals-less teams, Josep Gombau and Kenny Lowe, had not. This week Western Sydney opted not to renew Gombau’s contract, and yesterday Perth sacked Lowe. 

    The two departures, although coming within a day of one another, could not be less alike. Yes, the teams finished under a similar cloud of choking mediocrity, stuck in that utterly unbearable limbo of being clearly not good enough to challenge in the post-season, but not awful enough to truly wallow – embrace even – their inadequacy, like Central Coast or Wellington. They finished within two competition points of one another, and the same goes for goal difference. 

    But Josep Gombau had been at the helm of the Wanderers for less than six months. The Wanderers were three-quarters of the way into abseiling through their preseason preparations when Tony Popovic’s sudden departure saw their ropes snap and whip around, leaving them dangling horribly.

    Josep Gombau

    (AAP Image/ Julian Smith)

    When Gombau arrived he was faced with the task of shaping someone else’s squad without a preseason. He is a manager who has a history of needing time to instil his style, to tinker alchemically with the formula, balancing the skills of his team with his tactical ideals.

    It took a year and a half with Adelaide before he won anything. But by the end his methods were sound, and the team he built formed the nucleus for the Gui Amor’s title-winners the next season – it was Gombau, remember, who had brought in Amor during the 2014-15 season as technical director.

    His was a popular appointment to the under-23 national team role, and his value was consolidated by Ange Postecoglou, who regularly had him on the bench as part of the Socceroos coaching staff when he was manager. Everything about his career – the and the unremarkable remarkable moments – indicates that if you hire him, you must give him time, and if you do, good things tend to follow. 

    Six months is not long enough, and Western Sydney now run the risk of becoming one of those short-termist clubs that hire and fire recklessly. That’s fine if you’re Chelsea, with unprecedented investment and the ability to attract almost any elite manager in the world, but Chelsea the Wanderers are not.

    When the Popovic era ended – the only manager the club had had, keep in mind – it signalled the end of a period in which the manager was the only constant; Popovic chopped and changed his squad with an almost manic abandon and was able to by and large keep the team performing, buffeted and a little bewildered, rising and falling but maintaining flight amid the turbulence.

    Not all managers work like that, and clearly Gombau had an extremely hard time coaxing any coherence out of this season’s squad. This isn’t reason enough to drop the axe, however.

    Kenny Lowe, on the other hand, had been at Perth for 139 matches, losing almost as many (52) as he won (60), and treating the public to an ongoing fireworks show, blasting and fizzing furiously at both ends of the pitch.

    Perth have been the league’s kamikaze team for a while, conceding goals in extraordinary numbers, scoring almost as explosively, and all the while failing to make a grand final in each of Lowe’s four full seasons. They are still the only foundation team still in existence that hasn’t won an A-League premiership or championship. The Wanderers answered the question, ‘Can our manager lead us to success in the near future?’ on too little evidence; Perth had all the evidence they needed. 

    kenny-lowe-perth-glory-a-league-football-2017-tall

    Kenny Lowe (AAP Image/David Mariuz)

    In the 2016-17 season Lowe had Diego Castro, a recent Johnny Warren medallist, under his stewardship. He had Adam Taggart and Andy Keogh, two players who banged in a dozen or more goals each that year. He had Rhys Williams and Josh Risdon in the squad, two players who now hold hopes of national team selection for Russia.

    The squad was padded out with league stalwarts: Liam Reddy in goal, Dino Djulbic, and Rostyn Griffiths patrolling defensively. This was as good a squad as Lowe has had. They finished fifth in the league, conceding a staggering 53 goals, and were knocked out in the second round of the finals. For many Perth fans, this guillotine is late in falling.

    Gombau might have been thinking of reworking Western Sydney’s youth program or pondering which Spanish midfielder to bring in over the off-season. Now Southern Expansion may well be taking a look at him as a potential candidate should they receive a licence.

    For Kenny Lowe, it’s hard to have sympathy for someone who was given all the time he needed to succeed but who so visibly failed to address the very aspects that prevented that success. How the clubs move on from these managers and whether history will etch these sackings in as wise decisions, we’ll have to wait to see.

    Evan Morgan Grahame
    Evan Morgan Grahame

    Evan Morgan Grahame is a Melbourne-based journalist. Gleaning what he could from his brief career as a painter, the canvas of the football pitch is now his subject of contemplation, with the beautiful game sketching new, intriguing compositions every week. He has been one of The Roar's Expert columnists since 2016. Follow him on Twitter @Evan_M_G.

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    The Crowd Says (8)

    • April 21st 2018 @ 6:53am
      Buddy said | April 21st 2018 @ 6:53am | ! Report

      We focus (and quite justifiably) on players and managers or coaches if you prefer, as that is the more tangible part of the game that we love. What we don’t get to see is how clubs are run overall. Who controls what, who has a say in the decision making process, who is really pulling the strings and ultimately, is the management team at a club really competent? Sports clubs are no different than any other business in that you need a variety of skills within a management group to make a place thrive and if the team isn’t right business will suffer. Whilst we have seen and heard horror stories relating to owners of The Jets, Gold Coast etc the landscape appears to have altered somewhat and there are fewer issues on that front in Brisbane – well reported issues at least.
      However, that does not mean that clubs are well run and well administered and on the subject of appointments and sackings, look for the answers right there. Whether you believe JG should have been given more time, whether he should have been able to change the whole squad around to suit his style is not the main point here. The question is who appointed him and on what basis and what were the kpi’s? Unfortunately we are never likely to find the answers to those questions and so we summize and speculate. If it wasn’t as simple as making the top six ( and I sincerely hope it wasn’t) attention turns to why he was recruited in the first place, what was his brief and who was “calling the shots”? From where I sit, I summize that there was a grand failing at board level, poor planning and decision making and not enough attention paid to the character type that the club was seeking and possibly poor management of the incumbent once appointed. JG was touted as the obvious choice and it just fitted together neatly and lazily.
      Perth might be a different story. Time for a change in style and leadership of the team as the current system isn’t working? We all know that failure on the field only ever goes as far as the manager/coach for responsibility so a couple of seasons of not meeting kpi’s and the axe falls.
      Two very contrasting scenarios though.

      • April 21st 2018 @ 8:34am
        Kangajets said | April 21st 2018 @ 8:34am | ! Report

        Surely when they interview a coach

        They ask relevant questions

        What do you think of the current playing group

        What is your intended style of play

        Do you have the right players to implement your style and strategy

        Do you intend to bring in players in the transfer window to suit the team

        How will you deal with player x y z who are considered leaders in this club and might not buy into your philosophy

      • Roar Guru

        April 21st 2018 @ 9:17am
        Griffo said | April 21st 2018 @ 9:17am | ! Report

        Buddy this is a good question. A good one that fans ask but fall on deaf ears while a club recruits and churns through coaches, players, and sometimes staff without any change in team performance or standing.

        It happened at the Jets for a long time but things only really turned around with a new owner who gave his broker the CEO role (McKinna) who turned out to not be too bad at all, as he showed at the Mariners.

        It’s not about the owner change as any owner can hire a competent person. But often they don’t. Or don’t know what one is.

        And they have no plan other than hoping the next guy/management team can make it work, with as little resources as possible.

        It comes down to what I’ve found for a long time: it doesn’t matter how much money you have available, you have to know how to spend it wisely.

        If you can’t do that then you’re throwing money into the wind.

        What is that saying about fools making the same decision and expecting a different outcome?

        It seems to often apply to the decision makers at football clubs.

      • April 23rd 2018 @ 11:53am
        Barca4life said | April 23rd 2018 @ 11:53am | ! Report

        Well said Buddy, the lack of context here is quite concerning.

        Why did WSW hire Gombau in the first place?

        Did they study his work when he was at Adelaide United?

        Did they ever backed up and committed to his project all along?

        I suspect the answers of those would be mixed but quick frankly I’m appalled by the board and the CEO who never backed the coach and never understood his work and overall vision he had for the club.

        If i was a WSW member the CEO and Chairman have been made me untrustworthy of them.

    • Columnist

      April 21st 2018 @ 9:06pm
      Stuart Thomas said | April 21st 2018 @ 9:06pm | ! Report

      I really enjoyed reading that Evan and a fair assessment it was. Giving a man like Gombau six months seems short sighted (much like the tendency of the Wanderers) and giving Lowe so much time when he appeared technically deficient also seemed foolish.

      Their new appointments will be interesting to observe and vital for their futures.

    • April 22nd 2018 @ 12:43am
      Edward Astor said | April 22nd 2018 @ 12:43am | ! Report

      Speaking of managers, now that Arsene Wenger is moving on, should the Socceroos think about trying to lure him?

    • April 22nd 2018 @ 12:58pm
      Vennegor of Tarsus said | April 22nd 2018 @ 12:58pm | ! Report

      What a shame Gombau wasn’t given a fair chance

    • April 23rd 2018 @ 2:27pm
      Paul said | April 23rd 2018 @ 2:27pm | ! Report

      Gombau lost the confidence of the WSW management and the playing group.

      He does not embody the values of Western Sydney.

      Gombau refused to play to the teams strengths like crosses for Riera. Instead of adapting to the team, he insisted on his tactics from day 1 rather than work with the squad he had.
      Gombau was selected just like when won a gold medal at the winter Olympics as the last man standing. First choice Milicic chose to stay witb the National Team and live in Croatia
      Second choice Dick Schuster was a last minute withdrawal.
      A significant chunk of WSW supporters are glad to see the back of him.

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