With the luxury of hindsight, and with his dismissal confirmed on Thursday morning, we can now say the Catalan was a square peg for a rigid, round hole – and one never sat totally comfortable with the other.
Not least after Sunday’s catastrophe, when the Wanderers glibly tapped out against Adelaide after leading 1-0 and failed to make the finals. It was an ominous afternoon against his old club.
There was always going to be teething problems for the Catalan. But the question was always going to be about time and whether he would be afforded the understanding to execute his vision that eventually proved so successful in South Australia – only arriving after a memorably rocky start there.
His former players, led by Bruce Djite, soon piped up in Gombau’s defence. Trust the process, it will happen. Yet as the weeks and months went on, the ship wasn’t turning as quickly nor convincingly as it did in Adelaide.
Visual spats with Oriel Riera and Brendon Santalab looked terrible. Robbie Cornthwaite couldn’t pretend he liked the new boss any longer. The positional debacle with Keanu Baccus in the 5-0 derby defeat; the transfer debacle with his brother. And they are only the issues we know of.
Winning, it is often said, solves a lot of these problems. But win they did not. And the Wanderers are a club that expects success, ideally delivered with a ruthless kind of efficiency. The only ruthlessness shown was how quickly the board moved on the coach post-season.
Do not think it was always smooth sailing under Popovic. He will be the first to tell you that, as will the many players he let go along the way. But his method was meticulous, his vision absolute and his leadership inspirational.
And, naturally, as he sits in his favourite cafe tomorrow morning, scanning the headlines, shooting the breeze with Zeljko Kalac, they know they need only to sit by the phone.
Of course, whether or not ‘Popa’ takes the Wanderers job is another question, for his European dream is not sated and he remains an ardent admirer of Asian football.
The Wanderers, as a club, must one day learn to live without their first coach but given he built the machine himself, it’s only natural that he’s the only one who knows how to fly it. He did rule himself out of the Sydney FC job, if that counts for anything.
Still, hopefully the club undertakes a broader process, for the Wanderers owe it to themselves and their fans to cast a wide net – if only to get some new ideas and keep the creative juices flowing.
Whoever gets the job, the Wanderers, as a club, need to make sure they quickly recover their identity. It’s amazing how much can be lost so quickly. Bad results, added to unsightly friction with the fan base, the loss of Popovic and the remarkable resurgence of Sydney FC have acted like a domino effect.
Momentum is required to be at full-throttle before they return to Parramatta Stadium to capitalise on the feel-good factor. So they need to get this next appointment spot on.
And they will well know the value of having the coach on board for the whole of pre-season – especially if he wants to implement new ideas, as Gombau wanted to do.
As for the Spaniard, it’s back to the drawing board. Given all that went on these past few months, his stock has taken a hit. That’s a shame, because he can coach, and coach well. He shouldn’t be lost to the game here but he needs to find the right place. Suffice to say, Western Sydney wasn’t it.