Western Sydney Wanderers could take years to rediscover itself, says Brendon Santalab

The former Western Sydney striker believes Popovic's departure has left a very big hole at the club

When Perth Glory take on Western Sydney Wanderers this Sunday, both Brendon Santalab and Tony Popovic will be taking on the red and black for the first time. 

Having resurrected his career to an extent at Western Sydney, Santalab departed the club at the end of the season after only being offered a non-playing contract. 

The Wanderers inaugural coach himself left the red and black in stunning fashion just prior to the beginning of last season after taking up an opportunity in Turkey.

The move would prove unsuccessful for both him and the club he left behind as Western Sydney missed the finals for just the second time in their history. 

After thriving under Popovic, Santalab revealed just how much his departure impacted the Wanderers at the time and admits it will likely continue to do so. 

"That was a hard and difficult moment for everybody at the club," Santalab told Goal.

"I think you could clearly see the impact that it made, on not just the players, but the whole club in general. I still feel possibly there’s still a gap there, a hole, and the club never really recovered from Popa’s departure.

"That just shows how influential Popa is and for the Glory to be able to bring Popa in is a huge step forward." 

Tony Popovic Western Sydney Wanderers v Melbourne Victory A-League 08042017

While Popovic has found a new home in Perth, Western Sydney are still looking to fill his shoes with Markus Babbel appointed as coach over the off-season after Josep Gombau's sacking.

Gombau struggled in his one season in charge and Santalab conceded the job of replacing Popovic was never going to be an easy one. 

"I think it was going to be difficult for anybody that stepped into that position," he said. 

"It was a similar situation to when Sir Alex Ferguson left Manchester United, but on a smaller scale.    

"I think when you build a club from a blank piece of paper and you build it to what it was before Popa left it can take years to rediscover itself.  With the new stadium that they’re building, it could be a number of years before they actually find their feet again.

Josep Gombau Western Sydney Wanderers

"I’m very proud to have been at the club under Popa and to have had the success we did. It was a fantastic journey that I’ll cherish for the rest of my career."

Despite Popovic's departure, Santalab was prepared to play on at the Wanderers but the club didn't see him featuring for them on the pitch. 

"I wanted to play on but the club wasn’t in a position to offer me a playing contract," he said. 

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"An admin role for me was something that I didn’t simply consider because I’ve got a lot more to give on the pitch.

"When I realised the club were not interested in giving me a playing contract, I had three very good options and the obvious one was when Popa called me - I made my decision quite quickly." 

After years of delivering for the red and black, both Popovic and Santalab must quick cast past allegiances aside on Sunday as Perth look to finally live up to their potential.