UNDER THE PUMP: Kerem Bulut of Western Sydney Wanderers competes for the ball in the team’s eight game in 25 days against FC Seoul on Wednesday night.
UNDER THE PUMP: Kerem Bulut of Western Sydney Wanderers competes for the ball in the team’s eight game in 25 days against FC Seoul on Wednesday night. Chung Sung-Jungetty IMAGES

Wanderers not on level playing field

MANAGERS and coaches have often had a whinge about scheduling affecting team performance, but in the case of Western Sydney Wanderers I think Tony Popovic certainly has a point.

In the past 25 days his team has had to play eight games and has twice had to endure long flights to Asia.

Some might say these players are professional athletes and they should be able to cope with schedules such as those put before the Wanderers, but I think even those at the top level of sport deserve a break.

Before the 0-0 draw with FC Seoul in the South Korean capital on Wednesday night, Popovic was already missing Brendon Santalab (shoulder) and Shannon Cole (collarbone) with season-ending injuries, while Brendan Hamill (torn quadriceps) and Mark Bridge (groin) are also struggling to make it back for this campaign.

To add to his woes, Popovic lost Tomi Juric to a hamstring strain during the warm-up before the game in Seoul, and also Matthew Spiranovic halfway through the first half to the same injury.

I reckon any coach in the world would struggle to get results with an injury list such as that.

It is no wonder the Wanderers have struggled in the A-League this season.

Now they are expected to back up again against Newcastle tomorrow - a game which could decide which team will take the wooden spoon this season, after only arriving back from Seoul the previous day.

No team should have to put up with a schedule like this, and it seems the Wanderers are being punished for being successful after their Asian Champions League win last season.

Ahead of the draw in Seoul, Popovic was questioned by Korean journalists about his team's poor record in the A-League this season.

In his reply, the Wanderers coach blamed the tough schedule for his team sitting in second from bottom and also said he needed a larger squad to help him get the results he wanted in the A-League.

"I believe we've paid the price for that (ACL success)," Popovic said.

"Not because of our quality - we have quality players - but it has been a very difficult period."

You have to feel sorry for Popovic and his players.

The former Socceroo is a top-class coach, but given what he has had to work with over the past few months, I think even the likes of Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal and Bayern Munich boss Pep Guardiola would have struggled to cope, and would have whinged about it too.

All A-League clubs deserve support from Football Federation Australia, and maybe it needs to look at the scheduling and squad issues that Popovic talked about this week.

There has to be a level playing field for all clubs and it seems to me that the Wanderers are on one which seems to be metaphorically sloping towards their own goal at the moment.