Something must change: Santalab slams Wanderers' direction under Gombau
Western Sydney stalwart Brendon Santalab has piled the pressure on Wanderers coach Josep Gombau by issuing a damning condemnation of how the club is going under the beleaguered Spaniard's guidance.
Santalab is leading the calls for large-scale change at the club after the most expensive Wanderers team ever assembled finished in the bottom half of the table and failed to qualify for the A-League finals.
"It's disappointing. Just look at the team sheet, it’s one of the best in the league. Something’s not clicking and we need to change something," Santalab said after the 3-2 loss to Adelaide United on Sunday night that consigned the club to a seventh-place finish.
The veteran striker went on to detail a lengthy list of issues he said had hampered the team's progress under Gombau, including claims of player dissatisfaction, a perceived lack of direction, questions about the tactics and concerns over the football philosophy.
"I think ever since [former coach Tony Popovic] left it’s been an unsettled ship," he said. "I think everybody can see that ... We never got going, we never got the rhythm and that has to change. Whatever that is, it’s out of my control."
The club's all-time leading goal-scorer scoffed at previous suggestions that the Wanderers' plight was due to the coaching upheaval at the start of the season, saying there had been plenty of time for Popovic's replacement to enforce a new playing style and that the players had the quality to have adapted to any changes.
"When you have a squad like that and you don’t make the finals, something’s not right. I mean, what a team that is, [look at] the names!" Santalab said. "If you looked at our pre-season, you would have put us up there as title contenders. There's no excuse with all the changes and everything. For me, you had an incredible group of players, great footballers and should be doing more."
Gombau has talked about it being a lengthy "process" to change the club's playing style to a more attacking and possession-based system. After inheriting an undefeated team that was sitting in fourth place after round five, the Wanderers struggled under him, losing 10 of their 22 games, winning seven and struggling for consistency.
Since taking over, issues of player discontent have regularly surfaced. First, there were the frequent sideline arguments with marquee Oriol Riera, then an abrupt request to leave from midfielder Kearyn Baccus, which was denied, and most recently an alleged training ground bust-up with Dutch midfielder Roly Bonevacia.
Santalab questioned the Wanderers' football philosophy and this season's tactical approach, which he believes must be addressed during the post-season review.
"I think we need to see what direction we are going in first, especially with our playing style. We never really got going. I think we had 16 weeks to get it right and we didn’t hit it in the end and that's something we need to iron-out; our vision going forward, how we need to play, our strategy."
Santalab remains in the dark over his future, having yet to be told whether he features in the club's plans for next season. After Sunday's game, he walked around the perimeter of ANZ Stadium to thank the fans in what could well be his last game for the club.
Having missed the post-match talk, Santalab returned to find the dressing room in a dejected mood.
"It wasn’t good at all. I went around to all the fans, I actually missed the meeting, they didn’t wait for me. It’s disappointment all around," Santalab said.
The 35-year-old has vowed to continue playing despite coming off-contract next month and said his preference was to remain with the Wanderers.
"That’s the intention," he said. "There’s a lot of uncertainty flying around about many things but I hope that wasn’t my last game tonight.
"Obviously, I've been at the club for a long time and I’d like to stay. It’s in the club’s hands with what happens. I love the club and the fans and I’d like to stay."
The Wanderers will undergo a post-season review involving the board, which will determine the fate of Gombau.