On Monday, Markus Babbel became the latest A-League coach shown the door after Western Sydney Wanderers announced their decision to “part company” with the German.
The third A-League coach sacking in as many weeks came less than a week after Melbourne Victory – which sits just a point above Wanderers on the A-League table – decided to split with Marco Kurz.
The fate of the two presents an intriguing contrast: Why did Babbel last longer than Kurz in 2019-20 despite greater evidence of an inferior footballing product?
For while Babbel’s exit arrived midway through his second year in Sydney’s west, Kurz was ousted after just 14 games.
Although this season was supposed to be the one where the Wanderers returned from the wilderness, such hopes soon proved to be a phantom; a fortuitous start giving way to poor results and worse football.
When the overdue call to sack Babbel was made, the 47-year-old had been in command for 41 games but only produced 10 wins compared to 23 losses.
“[It] came as no surprise,” Babbel told German outlet Sport1.
“Such a decision is not surprising unless the points are scored. That’s football.”
And while the blame for the Wanderers maladies cannot stop with Babbel alone, his coaching never looked like it was capable of producing titles.
Australia may not have the spectre of promotion and relegation hanging over clubs – a point Babbel repeatedly hammered home during his tenure – but that’s still no reason for clubs to accept stagnation.
Scraping to the mediocrity of a sixth-placed finish and an almost certain early finals exit is not a goal.
Another season..Same excuses. @wswanderersfc
— RBB Official (@RBB_net) January 20, 2020
Despite its sour end, though, the tone of Babbel’s tenure differed vastly with that of Kurz at Victory.
While there are duelling narratives that can be constructed on his efficacy, Kurz was always a poor cultural fit at AAMI Park.
His playing philosophy clashed with the entertaining style that Victory fans see as being at their core, and his lack of input into recruitment was questioned.
Kurz’s discomfort with the corporate responsibilities that come with the Victory coaching mantle also did nothing to endear him to the higher-ups – it’s no coincidence that interim Victory boss Carlos Salvachúa was seen immediately in a suit and tie adorned with sponsors logos.
Eventually, these cultural factors that made Kurz’s hiring a poor decision by the Victory brass also made it easy to part ways with him – tension between him and the club’s ethos leaving him without a shield as poor on-field performances began to bite.
Conversely, despite his failings as a tactician and organiser, Babbel was an excellent fit in western Sydney.
Combative and forthright, the 47-year-old wore his heart – and Wanderers’ tattoo – on his sleeve.
To the delight of fans, he never shied away from displaying his displeasure when a call went against him or from playing the kids.
Though an affable character, he had a simmering edge to him that fit with the rough and tumble spirit Wanderers fans have adopted to contrast themselves from their more glamorous Sky Blue rivals, Sydney FC.
Even willing to record a farewell video after his removal, his time in Australia, despite the failures on the field, will still hold some fond memories for Wanderers fans.
“The [CEO] found it extremely difficult to inform me of the decision,” Babbel told Sport1.
“He couldn’t really look me in the eye. I had to calm him down and just said, ‘John [Tsatsimas], Don’t worry. I know how it works.”
— WS Wanderers FC (@wswanderersfc) January 20, 2020
When contrasted with Kurz, it seems that Babbel’s ability to contribute to the Wanderers ‘vibe’ helped him to delay the axe for as long as he did – maintaining his employment as performances dived through force of personality.
His swish wardrobe and willingness to hammer referees and VAR was always good content – other than his team’s performance – kept the media pack placated until the lack of results became untenable.
Thus, the tale of the two Germans hints at the perilous balancing act faced by club administrators when it comes to hiring and firing a coach – how to balance a pursuit of tactical acumen and results against finding a candidate that fits into the club’s identity?
As demonstrated by Kurz, a poor cultural fit leaves so little room for error as to make the entire appointment pointless.
But, as shown by Babbel, sizzle is not enough if the steak is never coming; only serving to delay the inevitable.