Jean-Paul de Marigny talks like someone from Western Sydney. He even looks a bit like the hard-nut uncle in the corner at every backyard barbecue throughout the sprawling region.
That’s not a dig at JP. It’s just that if you asked Wanderers fans who better represents them – the bloke with the Hawaiian shirts and broad Bavarian accent, or the guy who talks about “being comfortable wif each ovver” – my guess is they’d pick de Marigny every time.
I grew up in Western Sydney. It’s a unique part of the world. And I reckon for the past few seasons under Josep Gombau and Markus Babbel, the Wanderers have lost their way a little.
It’s been years since they had a local at the helm. Hayden Foxe played his club football for Winston Hills – deep in the heart of Wanderers territory – and for six games in 2017 was Western Sydney’s interim coach following Tony Popovic’s sudden departure.
But when Wanderers chairman Paul Lederer and chief executive John Tsatsimas decided Gombau was a better fit, Foxe ended up heading as far west as it gets and joining Perth Glory.
So it’s ironic, then, that Glory are now coached by two men who know Western Sydney better than anyone: Popovic and Foxe.
That’s not to say you need to be a local to coach a team.
But in a place like Western Sydney – a vast, sometimes hard-scrabble region of multicultural communities – it often helps.
There’s a reason Mitch Duke has become a bit of a cult hero for the Wanderers, and it’s not just because he’s turned out to be their most effective player.
Duke, who grew up in Liverpool and started his career with former NSL club Parramatta Melita, embodies the strong work ethic and never surrender attitude of the region’s inhabitants.
It’s no surprise that he was named captain this season, nor that he’s scored the winning goal in both Sydney derbies.
Duke just gets it – and increasingly it’s looking like de Marigny does too.
The former Marconi defender has taken ten points from his four games in charge as Western Sydney’s interim coach, but more importantly he’s restored some self-belief to a team that looked shattered under Babbel.
And de Marigny’s decent start may give the Wanderers hierarchy pause for thought.
They’ve plumped for the big-name foreign coach twice now. Do they do so once again at the end of the season?
It’s not like the Wanderers have blown teams away under de Marigny. Their best performance was obviously that 5-2 win over Adelaide United, but on the whole they’ve been more solid than spectacular.
But what de Marigny has managed to do, where Babbel clearly failed, is bring his squad together and create a more close-knit playing group.
No one condones Daniel Georgievski’s send-off in the derby – his studs-up kick at Marco Tilio was as dangerous as it was stupid – but the fiery defender’s dismissal was a reminder that the Wanderers still care.
And they could hardly have a better chance to leapfrog Brisbane Roar in the standings and climb back into the top six as a result than when the two sides meet at Suncorp Stadium tonight.
The Wanderers smashed the same opponents 4-1 at Suncorp Stadium on this very weekend last year, although that was a very different Roar side.
But this is a different-looking Wanderers side under de Marigny too; one that doesn’t seem like folding at the first sign of pressure.
How they cope with Brisbane Roar’s resolute defensive structure will be the story of the match.
There are plenty of storylines in Australian football if you know where to look, and no doubt Western Sydney will feature prominently in the new Optus Sport series on grassroots football.
A migrant from Mauritius knows all about that kind of passion. His name’s Jean-Paul de Marigny, and he could be the answer to Western Sydney’s woes.