Just about everything that could have gone right for the Western Sydney Wanders has gone right in the first two years of their existence.
The one thing missing is an A-League title, but apart from that, the club has smashed all reasonable expectations to win the premiership in their first season and make it to the Grand Final in their second attempt. And now they are two matches away from being crowned the best team in Asia, having qualified for the final of the Champions League.
The big question now is whether the loss against Brisbane Roar in the 2013-14 A-League title decider will spur the side on to go one further this time around, or if the bubble will burst somewhat and the Wanderers will endure the first mediocre season in their history.
Much may depend on how the ACL final pans out. If Tony Popvic’s side takes the glory, the pressure will be off for the rest of their domestic campaign. If not, they may be even more driven to prove they are a club capable of winning things and not just falling at the final hurdle.
Last Season: 2nd
Seyi Adeleke (From Lazio)
Dean Bouzanis (From Carlisle United)
Romeo Castelen (From RKC Waalwijk)
Antony Golec (From Asian Champions League squad)
Brendan Hamill (From Seongnam FC)
Vitor Saba (From Brescia)
Josh Barresi (Signed with Newcastle Jets)
Michael Beauchamp (Released)
Adam D’Apuzzo (Released)
Dean Heffernan (Retired)
Youssouf Hersi (Signed with Perth Glory)
Tahj Minniecon (Released)
Aaron Mooy (Signed with Melbourne City)
Jerome Polenz (Released)
Shinji Ono (Released)
Jerrad Tyson (Released)
There are some guns in the Wanderers’ lineup, but one man who stitches it all together is elegant centre-back Spiranovic. The red-and-blacks have built their game from the back and Spiranovic exemplifies the type of football that the manager wants the side to play. A physical and safe defender, he is also excellent with the ball at his feet, and it is his accurate passes from the back that get the whole side moving forward with intent.
What’s to like
The Wanderers remain a great team. Much credit must go to Popovic, who has the right mix of charisma, sternness and tactical know-how to become one of Australia’s greatest managers. No matter how many injuries the squad suffers, no matter what other distractions are going on, you know they will put out a side that is very, very tough to beat, and that always makes them a contender at the pointy end of the season. Watch out for Saba, too – he could be a sensation in the A-League.
What’s not to like
Some top-class talent departed the club over the off-season. While glamour boy Shinji Ono’s on-field imagination will be sorely missed, the fact that the likes of Mooy, Hersi and Barresi have gone off to strengthen other A-League clubs could really come back to bite the Victory. The squad seems slightly weaker overall on the balance of the transfers in and out, while most of the other top sides have improved quite a bit. This could be the first time we see a dip in the performance of the Wanderers, but if they are crowned Asian champions this year, that won’t matter to them all that much.
Predicted finish: 4th