Western Sydney Wanderers hero Brendon Santalab has called for root-and-branch change at the club he once graced, insisting the Red and Black have never recovered from the exit 26 months ago of foundation coach Tony Popovic.
The journey from Wanderland to Blunderland under the disastrous reigns of Josep Gombau and now Markus Babbel has tarnished the brand, and left all-time leading scorer ‘Santa’ calling for a fresh vision to bring life back to the club after seven defeats in nine games.
“It’s clear they’ve never recovered from the departure of Tony Popovic and they’re suffering right now,” said the 2014 AFC Champions League winner.
“It just goes to show how good he is as a manager and the club never really prepared for life after ‘Popa’.
“They’re now in a situation where they need to look from the ownership down and maybe move the club on to somebody else who has a different vision and philosophy.
“There need to be massive changes to show the fans they are heading in the right direction again.
“Gombau was an absolute disaster and Babbel has been an absolute disaster - what do you do?
“Do you keep the coach and change the players again?
“Or do you get somebody else in with the same playing group? It’s risky either way, whether you keep Babbel or get rid of him.
“There’s no guarantee that with a new manager they will turn the corner again.
"There are massive decisions for the club to make.”
Santalab, 37, struck 35 goals in 97 games for Western Sydney across five seasons, often as a super sub, winning the affection of fans along the journey with his firebrand devotion to the cause.
He is dismayed by what he sees now from those wearing the shirt of the A-League’s “biggest club”.
“As a past player knowing the culture we had there, it’s upsetting to see them now,” he said.
“With the training facilities and the new stadium they have they should be the biggest club in the country.
“Something is badly wrong and mass changes are needed.
“The playing group hasn’t shown enough fight, enough character or enough resilience for a club of their stature.
“You play for the fans and the badge on your jersey and that’s just not happening at the moment.
“They’re trying but things aren’t gelling and don’t look like gelling,” added Santalab, who wound up his 20-year professional career once more under Popovic at Perth Glory last season.
He’s taken on a new challenge at Victorian club Caroline Springs George Cross - once part of the fabric of the NSL as Sunshine George Cross - as both player and commercial manager.
But despite a career which included stints in Europe and China, it’s the Wanderers where his heart lies.
“When you have players doing interviews and see the way they’re talking it’s obvious it’s an unhappy camp there,” he continued.
“Babbel has had enough time (40 matches, for 22 defeats and just 10 wins) to instill the philosophy and vision he wanted and it’s clearly not working.
“Whether he’s given too much of the reins to the backroom staff, I don’t know.
“For the fans who are bleeding red and black, they’re hurting and deserve better. I feel sorry for them.
“Under Popovic everybody at the club was traveling in the same direction and had the same vision, from the office staff upwards.
“It was a special feeling and hasn’t been there since he left. You could feel passion every time you walked into the stadium.
"There was a real buzz and excitement before matches and I’m not sure people are feeling that way anymore.
“At the end of the day, what the fans want most are results - and that’s just not happening.
“New stadiums don’t bring results but hard work and togetherness do."