Romeo Castelen. Wanderers’ Romeo Castelen at training. Photo: Anthony Johnson
It’s April 28, 2015. A Tuesday night and on the stage of the Rosehill Gardens’ Grand Pavilion, Romeo Castelen is accepting an award as the Western Sydney Wanderers members’ choice for player of the year.
Applause fills the room as the popular Dutchman makes his speech, but as he departs the microphone there is an awkward feeling inside.
“That was nice of the fans to give me that award but, honestly, it made me feel bad. I know that I didn’t actually play anywhere near my best,” he said. “People were saying ‘congratulations, well done’ but my only feeling is that I want to apologise. I arrived wanting to play better than that. I wanted [to] show that I am better. That I can explode.”
Returning to his table, Castelen vowed that the next season would change all of that.
“I wanted to give something more to the club, especially the fans, because they voted for me in this award and clearly they believed in me,” he said. “It’s been a long time since I’ve had that support, so I promised myself that I would come back and be the player who could really deserve that award.”
At 32, with a promising career tarnished by injuries and lapses of form, it didn’t seem likely. He wouldn’t be the first to think himself capable of greater deeds, only to be undone by an unwilling body.
“I didn’t come here to finish my career, sit on a beach, relax, enjoy the food and the sun,” he said. “I know people doubted me but I knew I could do it. My body was fine – this was not going to be the end for me. No way. I promise you, that is not in my character.
“I came here to win more things, to challenge myself, to find something different. I wanted to showcase my qualities and to show people what I can do. We can talk, sure, but the truth is always on the pitch.”
The flying winger has been good to his word. Last season’s fluctuations have been replaced by a model that mixes fury with finesse, leading ex-Socceroo-turned-pundit Mark Bosnich to anoint him the equal of any player in the league.
“When a champion like Mark Bosnich says that, you get even more motivated,” he said. “I’m really proud about it because it means that I’m doing what I promised myself that I would do. The only thing is that we are only half-way, and if he’s saying that at the end of the season, then it means we’ve probably won something.”
Nor does Castelen think that his age means he should be slowing down any time soon.
“I played on such a high level at Feyenoord and Hamburg, with such great players, you learn so much from those guys,” he said. “Physically, you might slow a little. But mentally, you’ve added so many qualities to your game. That’s where you can improve. It’s been hard for me over the years because of injuries but that’s in past now.”
Indeed, when talk of “injuries” is put to Castelen, especially regarding his form last season, his ears prick up.
“You know, I only missed four games through injury. That’s it,” he said. “The rest of the time is because I was being rested. I don’t want people thinking I missed games because I was breaking down. Everybody says to me about these injuries. It’s not true.”
And that, he explains, is why the whole team has gone from winning four games last season to competing for honours this time around.
“What was happening wasn’t just with me, it was everyone. We had that crazy schedule. It was impossible. You’re playing one game here, then again in Asia, and then you’re playing in Wellington or Perth. All in one week,” he said. “The coach [Tony Popovic] decided that we had to rotate the players every game because it was physically too difficult to play all these matches.
“In the end, you get no rhythm. We were on a high after the Champions League, like a cloud, but exhausted. This season, we can pick the best players for every game. We’re not rotating and you can see we have the understanding you need to play the style he wants.”
Heading into Saturday’s game against the Central Coast Mariners, the Wanderers are second – but winless in their last three games. They dominated last weekend’s Sydney derby, a match Castelen knows they should have won.
“Their players were coming up to me after the game and saying that we didn’t deserve to lose,” he said. “Of course we are disappointed – we were the team that dominated and in the end we got nothing. But it’s something to remember and learn from.
“The goal for us is to finish on top of the table and then be champions. Teams are going to analyse us, work out what we do and try to stop us. It’s not just Sydney who will play like this. But what we can do is just work harder and harder, until we make it.”
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.