The bold Babbel moves that sparked Western Sydney’s season into life


He watched from afar on his first trip to New Zealand and yet Markus Babbel still had a major say on Western Sydney’s most accomplished performance of the season on Saturday.

Serving a touchline ban after last weekend’s Sydney Derby defeat, Babbel gambled on an awkward away date with the previously unbeaten Wellington Phoenix as the time to shake up his underperforming side.

The reward was a resounding 3-0 victory that will give supporters fresh hope for the season ahead.

Raul Llorente, Bruce Kamau and Jordan O’Doherty were all introduced to a starting XI that had not changed across the opening two rounds, and the impact was immediate. 

Crucially, they instilled in Wanderers attacking verve that has often been lacking beyond Oriol Riera, who scored 11 more goals than any other Wanderers player last term.

While the Spanish spearhead was on target again at Westpac Stadium, scoring the second from the spot, it was the supporting cast that shone on a dreary day.

Ex-Melbourne City winger Kamau was influential from the early exchanges, latching on to Roly Bonevacia’s defence-splitting pass and teeing up Alexander Baumjohann for the opener.

The latter pair relished new, youthful company going forward as they combined for eight of the dominant visitors’ 21 total shots, of which a season-high 15 came from inside the box.

Baumjohann and Bonevacia will deservedly earn plenty of plaudits, but Babbel can be most satisfied with his canny usage of the lively O’Doherty.

The 21-year-old, often deployed as a winger for Adelaide United, replaced the more circumspect Rashid Mahazi in central midfield and brought with him a refreshing forward-thinking attitude.

It was perfectly fitting that O’Doherty – his rebadged role making him the riskiest of the three inclusions – strode through in stoppage time to put the final seal on a result that completely changes the mood at the club.

Boldness, it seems, is Babbel’s clearest path to success.