Markus Babbel will be remembered in the A-League for winning ten games in 20 months, but just because he was an ordinary coach doesn’t mean we should ignore his thoughts entirely.
So much for the warm send-off. After recording a feel-good farewell video for Wanderers fans, Babbel was decidedly less conciliatory about the A-League and its shortcomings in an interview with German tabloid Sport Bild.
For those who don’t read German, the gist of the interview sees Babbel label the A-League a “game of chance played outdoors,” the standard of the league “poor” with many “technical errors” and he goes on to suggest the referees “stole eight points off him this season” and says it’s “unbelievable how bad the referees act”.
He also suggests Australian players are mentally weak, says that “football is a rich sport for the elite” with parents slugged annual fees of $2500, and implies that tough kids now play sports like “rugby” and “football (sic)”, which to Babbel presumably means Aussie rules.
Even the most casual observer of the A-League might rightfully reply, “Sure, but what’s your game plan for beating Perth Glory this season?”
Because that’s really what the German had a problem with.
More than referees or high temperatures or dressing room facilities or salary caps, what Babbel most struggled with was putting a cohesive football team out onto the pitch.
And when the spotlight started to fall on his coaching methods, he resorted to age-old Eurocentric tropes about Aussies not really having a feel for the game, or his players not being fit enough, or the referees harbouring a vendetta.
It’s not the first unhappy end Babbel has endured in his coaching career.
The major investor at his previous club FC Luzern memorably called Babbel “a Birchermuesli trainer – a little bit of this and little bit of that and back to a little bit of this again”.
Babbel was eventually sacked by Luzern after announcing his decision to step down, with the same investor – who for the sake of objectivity seems like a genuine nutter – later complaining the former Bayern Munich defender “never understood what makes Central Switzerland tick”.
Maybe he never really understood what made the A-League tick either?
And while it’s all well and good for us to get online and lob stones at Babbel – even if some of his own comments to the German press about a certain Sydney Morning Herald journalist should have raised a few eyebrows – there’s also a chance that in writing him off for bagging the A-League, we miss the chance to discuss some of his more constructive criticisms.
Why do we, for example, still have a salary cap? If the fans don’t want it and clubs don’t want it and an ex-Bundesliga blow-in with some colourful shirts and a patchy coaching record doesn’t want it, then why have one?
And what if our refereeing standards really could improve? Not only did Babbel say VAR has done little to benefit refereeing in Australia, he went so far as to suggest it practically cost his German compatriot Marco Kurz a job.
He’s not wrong about the cost of enrolling kids in elite football programs, and although he must have missed Australia’s backs-to-the-wall 2015 Asian Cup win, he’s not wrong about our golden generation of Socceroos being a bunch of battle-hardened warriors either.
Maybe there are lessons to be learnt on all sides of this saga.
Wanderers chairman Paul Lederer and his chief executive John Tsatsimas were the ones who hired Babbel. Where’s the scrutiny on them?
And it was Babbel who rocked up on Australian shores with little more than a few Bundesliga players on speed dial and a chipper personality. We saw the results.
As for his long list of complaints about the standard of the A-League, what was it that Lisa Simpson called this sort of behaviour again?
Oh that’s right. Sour grapes.