Western Sydney Wanderers Captain Nikolai Topor-Stanley goes 1v1 with the PFA to discuss their historic Asian Champions League triumph, the difficulties of competing on two fronts and why more needs to be done to ensure clubs can compete in both Asia and the A-League.

Q. It is five months on from when you claimed the Asian Champions League; can you still remember the feeling you had a full-time against Al-Hilal?

NTS: It was an overwhelming sense of relief, happiness and joy. I had had two Grand Final disappointments and after the second one you never know when the next one is going to come around, if at all. It was such a feeling of satisfaction under the circumstances of being a new club playing against some of the biggest names in the world.

Q. Did you realise at the time how big of an achievement it was?

NTS: It was definitely a case of letting it sink in over a while. I think I was a little bit stunned at full-time and was caught up in the moment but once you have time to reflect and look at what it took to get there, the obstacles such as travel, budgets and the like and you think ‘how was that possible.’ We did defy the odds and it makes it all the sweeter.

Q. How difficult is all the travel that comes with competing in Asia?

NTS: It’s far from the glamour life people normally associate with travel. You are flying overnight you are in economy and you are not getting much sleep. Also you are normally coming off a game not too long ago and you are tired and your muscles are hurting. Within our group we had a lot of resolve and we would have gone through hell and back and that is what got us through.

Q. Was it difficult to have to shift your focus straight back to the A-League?

NTS: The hardest part was that you couldn’t really celebrate what an achievement it was as a team and a club and we only really had that night and the plane ride back, then we had to forget about it. We knew we were in a difficult place in the league and we’re proud competitors and we wanted to get things back on track. When we landed back in Australia we had 48 hours before we were off to Wellington for a tough away game. Normally achievements like that are at the end of the season when you have time to relax and reflect on them and it’s an end point but that wasn’t the case.

Q. There have been times throughout the season where you have played as many as three games in a week; how tough has the schedule been?

NTS: It has been very difficult, easily the toughest period of my career but I also want to stress that none of the players are using it as an excuse, we know we have not performed to the level we expect from ourselves but the circumstances have been far from easy. Injury tolls have put us in a position where players have been forced to back up week after week and it has been physically and mentally impossible for players to be at their best and we have found out the hard way if you are not at your best you get punished. We have been there or thereabouts without really stamping our authority on games and that has cost us. In no games have we been completely outclassed but we have just not done enough to get three points and we take full responsibility.

Q. Have your results in the A-League highlighted how competitive the competition is and how you have to be at your best to get three points?

NTS: Our results and the games have highlighted the issue that if you are not at your best and not given ample time to recover physically and mentally you suffer the consequences.

Q. You are now well into a new Asian Champions League campaign; how enjoyable has it been to return to Asia as the Champions?

NTS: It has been great. We are very proud of what we have achieved and to be returning as the Champions of Asia is fantastic. We have been handed a very tough group but we are holding our own and we still have a couple of games to go and if we get the right results we should go through.

Q. Finally, what are the keys to ensuring our clubs can regularly compete with the best in Asia?

NTS: Scheduling and squad numbers are the two big things. We need to have our players fit and ready physically and mentally to compete not coming off a 12 hour plane trip and playing 24 hours later. All of those things contribute to fatigue and mental burn out and these issues have to be addressed to give the players the best possible opportunity to compete and to put on a show. We want the fans to witness the best possible game, we don’t want them to see a sub standard competition.


Each week the PFA will go 1v1 with a member to gain an insight into the lives of professional footballers on and off the pitch.

Image by Chad Gibson/Local FC, www.localfc.com.au.