Western Sydney's slide out of the A-League's top six has been accompanied by claims of internal turmoil, with club sources suggesting assistant coach Jean-Paul de Marigny has caused a rift throughout the club and allegedly undermined head coach Markus Babbel. The Wanderers have lost five consecutive matches, intensifying the pressure on their German coach and escalating tensions at a club which reached three grand finals between 2013 and 2016.
Speaking to the Herald on the condition of anonymity, multiple club sources suggest the fiery de Marigny has become a divisive character at the club over the past two seasons and has designs on replacing Babbel as head coach. "It's no secret," one club source said. "Especially now, he is just white-anting. You can see it, it’s obvious."
According to others at the club, De Marigny has privately made clear his intentions to become the head coach at the Wanderers. "We knew last year, the word was that JP was after Markus' job," a separate source said. "[JP] was carrying so much of the load, he was doing meetings, doing sessions, doing the tactics so I wasn't surprised." De Marigny strongly denied ever undermining Babbel when asked on Monday. “I have always been ambitious but I have never applied for a job," de Marigny said. "It's just madness. It’s absolute madness what you are talking about."
Those within the squad allege the most disruptive behaviour often surrounds matters of team selection. It was said to have began early last year when Babbel wanted to play several players from the Wanderers' youth academy. Sources said de Marigny did not share the head coach's appreciation for youngsters and became antagonistic and aggressive towards the younger players. Those who witnessed de Marigny's abrasive demeanour sympathised with the youth players. "I like JP but the game has evolved and he hasn’t," a club source said. "He just speaks to them like shit. You can’t do that to them anymore, you do it to kids these days and you destroy them." Another claims to have witnessed de Marigny lobby Babbel to remove youth players even from the training ground, suggesting he was happy to train with only 13 senior players. De Marigny strongly defended his record of youth development. "I have been involved with so many young players who have played for this country and have played professionally, you are just questioning my whole professionalism," he said.
According to club sources, de Marigny has been overbearing in matters of team selection, beyond the feedback normally expected of an assistant coach. Most notably, de Marigny is said to have been influential in the dropping of marquee striker Alex Meier to the bench. The German forward arrived late in the pre-season and needed time to regain full fitness but the Wanderers assistant wasn't prepared to give one of the Bundesliga's better strikers the time to acclimatise.
There honestly is none [direction]. We don't know what's happening... People are just looking at each other wondering what's going on. Wanderers club source.
Babbel said of his assistant: "JP is a top person, a top coach. I don’t know what people think he is doing but we are working 100 per cent loyal together." Club sources suggested departing players expressed concerns to the Wanderers' top brass at the end of last season. When asked if he had been made aware of any of the accusations against de Marigny, Wanderers' chairman Paul Lederer said he had not heard of any complaints from players or staff. "No, not at all. Nothing," he said. The problems at the Wanderers are not isolated to relationships between coaches and players but also involve tactics and the training regime. De Marigny runs training sessions while Babbel takes an observational role, much like a traditional British manager. Sources say it has led to highly repetitive training sessions and mundane drills that have left the players disinterested. "Nothing changed since last year," one player said.
Another says that under this format "every training is the same... there's no specific defensive work, no specific attacking work, no individual work." It's not just the training sessions that are said to be monotonous but the messages from the coaching staff to the players. Babbel spent the bulk of last season publicly complaining about players, training grounds and venues while repeatedly describing the A-League as "paradise city" because there is no pressure of relegation.
"They keep saying 'there's no pressure'. That hasn't been received well," a club source said. "You can't just rely on a new stadium and a new training pitch and think everything will be OK." The end result has been a lack of direction. After spending three months preparing a 3-5-2 wingback system during pre-season, the coaches abandoned that after round one and change tactics each week.
"There honestly is none [direction]. We don't know what's happening, we played with one formation in the pre-season then one game in, we change the whole formation," a club source said. "People are just looking at each other wondering what's going on."