When a tweet announcing the Western Sydney Wanderers’ intention to part ways with Markus Babbel appeared on Sunday night the worst kept secret in the A-League was well and truly let out of the bag.
The 47-year-old German was subsequently told he was surplus to requirements somewhere between the Wanderers 1-0 loss to Perth Glory and the official announcement that followed early Monday morning.
Frankly, the club had little other possible course of action without appearing to be sitting on its hands and doing nothing about what is fast becoming another wasted season.
The Western Sydney Wanderers exploded into the A-League in 2012, became a force and won an Asian Champions League title soon after. This perhaps set a benchmark that fuels much of the current dissatisfaction and disappointment felt by fans of the red and black.
In short, the Wanderers were too good too quickly. Sadly, the loyal fans’ passion and attendance has waned since 2015-16 after a third grand final loss.
Through no fault of their own, the Wanderers lost their foundation coach Tony Popovic as well as a stadium that had served them well through the early years, and they experienced the always problematic challenge of finding the right man to take the reins as manager.
What the club that refers to itself as the ‘pride of Western Sydney’ was able to do in those years was build something special, something we had arguably never seen in Australian domestic football previously.
Now, midway through the 2019-20 A-League season and with the challenge of finding a short-term managerial solution to mount a still more than realistic charge at the top six, the team appears on the brink of implosion.
The season began with three straight wins, a derby triumph over their greatest foe and a draw in Round 4 against the Roar. Since then the Wanderers have won just once, a 3-2 victory in Adelaide, and the ladder tells the full story.
First to ninth is a dramatic capitulation, and Babbel has taken the majority of the blame square in the face. A winning percentage of 29 will do that to a coach, and when all is said and done the German lasted just a year and a half in the top job at Western Sydney, having lost matches far more often than he’d won them.
I hope he is okay.
Professional life dishes out its fair share of humiliating blows to us all. I’ve lived it and so have you. However, managing a football team that lacks the quality needed to appease those who employed you and deliver the wins and trophies that the fans demand could be the most difficult job of all.
For every Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho, Jurgen Klopp or Pep Guardiola – men given the tools and resources required to turn potential into success – there are hundreds of Markus Babbels attempting to craft quality artefacts from materials just not up to the required standard.
In his mid-40s Babbel took a leap of faith and travelled more than half way around the world to manage a struggling team in a B-grade league. That is what both footballers and managers do in order to stay involved in the game they love.
It is a recipe for emotional turmoil, loneliness and doubt bred of communication and cultural issues that must be incredibly difficult to overcome for anyone other than the most resilient of characters.
Sadly, any credit accumulated by a manager thanks to a well-respected and long playing career at the highest level dries up pretty quickly when results turn against them. Babbel had 355 games in the bank before stepping into a managerial role.
No doubt he has enjoyed many top moments during his five-club, 13-year career. However, a tear or two would most likely have been shed late last night, with a three-year deal torn up and an indecisive future his immediate reality.
If rumour does become fact in Newcastle and an announcement on Ernie Merrick’s successor is imminent, Babbel will be out of the loop for an A-League coaching gig in the short term. In fact it would be fair to suggest that nine clubs are actually quite pleased with their current mentor.
Whether he heads home, takes on an assistant role or walks away from the game entirely is his call, but here’s hoping that Markus Babbel’s entire Down Under experience does not become a permanent scar.
Watching his downfall over the last few months has urged me to always remember that the machine of world football consists mostly of talented, well-meaning and decent people, some of whom succeed but many of whom receive the sack when their performance demands it.