The Wanderers held their own against Leeds on Saturday night, but it won’t stop many online fans from comparing the A-League unfavourably to English football.
Former German international Markus Babbel had plenty of success as a player, but as a coach he’s yet to realise his lofty goals.
As a defender Babbel was a towering presence. He played at Germany’s biggest club, Bayern Munich, for years, playing over 150 games before going on to a successful career with Liverpool. He also played 51 times for his country beside names like Juergen Klinsmann and Oliver Kahn.
But as a coach he’s still waiting for that same level of success, and he’s been controversial at times too.
So far, Babbel’s had four coaching jobs in Europe after starting as an assistant in Stuttgart, where he ended his playing days. He took on the head coach role at VfB in 2008 and was successful at first but was eventually let go as results stuttered in his second season.
At Hertha Berlin it was the same story – but different. Babbel managed to get the perennial underachievers from Germany’s capital back into the top flight in his debut season, much to the delight of home fans, but in his second campaign he rubbed up the club’s management the wrong way.
“There’s a point where I can’t just accept things, when I’m hung out to dry as a liar,” he told reporters back then, shortly before being given his marching orders.
“I’m not going to keep the dialogue going when that happens.”
Details of what actually happened between the two sides back then are murky. What does seem clear is that Babbel wanted to end his stint at Hertha at the end of his second season. German media hinted that he was hunting for other offers – hardly surprising with Hertha’s comparatively weak financial resources.
He eventually landed at Hoffenheim, a new Bundesliga side, backed by money from SAP founder Dietmar Hopp. It is the embodiment of modern European football ambition and seemed a good fit for the fresh and straight-talking Babbel.
Things didn’t work out there for long either, though, and Babbel admitted later that his stated aim of reaching the Europa League with the club was probably a step too far.
“It was important to me to just fill the club with life, to wake everyone up,” he said later of his time at Hoffenheim. “In retrospect, you could say that I bit off more than I could chew.”
Symbolic of his commitment was his agreement to take over the club’s commercial management role as an interim measure in addition to being head coach.
“I realised that I was totally overstretched,” he admitted.
Then he moved to Luzern in the considerably quieter Swiss Super League. Lining up to play teams like Lausanne-Sport and Thun instead of Bayern and Dortmund doesn’t seem to make much sense for someone who so desperately wants to succeed in his coaching career.
But Babbel was clearly keen to prove himself with a title. It bothers him to this day that his only silverware as a coach is winning the Second Bundesliga with Hertha in 2011.
His departure from Luzern in January also didn’t end on the best terms. In a recent interview with Blick newspaper, he said that the club’s main investor had become too involved and also accused the club of being “arrogant.”
“There is a huge disparity between expectation and the reality of the situation,” he said. “Anyone would think that (Luzern) had won the title eight times in the last ten years and done the double six times.”
So how will he go at the Wanderers? On his track record, it seems likely that Babbel will speak his mind when he shows up for his first coaching sessions in Blacktown.
His ambitious style and occasionally headstrong attitude are a good fit for the Wanderers, though, who have regularly shown that they can punch well above their weight in the A-League and that they are not afraid of aiming high.
If it is going to work, though, both sides just to have make sure that they are pulling in the same direction.