Wanderers striker Brendon Santalab on team pride, nutrition and grand final glory.
Fan favourite forward Brendon Santalab began his footballing career at a young age. Growing up in Wollongong on NSW’s south coast. He was encouraged to play soccer by his father.
“Football inspired me when I was very young,” he says. “Although I enjoyed playing other sports, football clearly stood out to me.”
Santalab played his first senior contract with Parramatta Power in the National Soccer League in 2000-2001, also playing for Sydney United from 2001-2003 before heading overseas to join Geyland United (Singapore), Oostende (Belgium), St Truiden (Belgium) and Ujpest (Hungary). He then returned home to play for Sydney FC from 2007-2009 before a stint in China from 2009-2013. He has since returned home to Australia, and has been playing for the Western Sydney Wanderers since 2013, where he has established himself as game-winning striker.
With both his parents being born in Croatia, Santalab has a soft spot for the Croatian national soccer team and follows them in major tournaments such as the World Cup and European Championships.
“They are a side filled with class and were knocked out of Euro 2016 way too early with the quality they have in their team,” he says.
Thanks to the A-League, the “global game” is growing in popularity here in Australia. And the impact this is having on upcoming talent is clear.
“The A-League changed football and sport in this country completely,” Santalab says. “It’s exactly what this country needed – a football overhaul at the top.
“The growth and development since the inception of the A-League has been incredible and we continue to see it grow year by year. Many players are being poached by overseas clubs, which speaks volumes about the talent we have here. Of course, it’s not ideal that we are unable to hold onto such great Australian talent, but for our national team it’s very rewarding that Australia’s best footballers are playing alongside some of the world’s best in Europe and Asia.”
A winning formula
The Wanderers have already managed to win an A-League Premiership and an AFC Champions League title in the team’s short history. So what makes the Wanderers special? According to Santalab, what doesn’t?
“We are a community club, a club with a vision to be successful each and every year,” he says. “Our members and fans are the most passionate in this country.
“This will be my fourth year with the Wanderers and it’s a blessing Football Australia decided to enter a team from Western Sydney into the A-League. The club was built from scratch five years ago and to be able to say we have won the biggest prize in Asia along with our domestic success is simply phenomenal. Tony Popovic [coach] has been instrumental in the club’s success, on and off the park. It’s an honour to play under Tony, and I’m very proud to be a part of this great club.”
The striker is often seen as the “star” of the team, but every team is only as good as the sum of its parts. How much does a good striker rely on his teammates to score?
“As they say, you’re only as good as the players around you and one player cannot win trophies on their own,” Santalab says. “Every player has an important role to play – a striker’s job is to score goals, but it doesn’t always turn out that way. A successful team shares the goal-scoring throughout the team – it’s a wonderful feeling scoring goals for your team.”
For Santalab and his teammates, training during the season is more about maintaining fitness and focusing on injury prevention.
“The coaching staff at the Wanderers have us in the gym once a week during season and every other session is either based on cardio, tactical or simply recovery training,” Santalab says. “There is a great balance of training, which makes training very enjoyable every day.”
For a striker, scoring goals at training is important. The team focuses the majority of training on each player’s specific position.
“I take a lot of confidence from scoring goals at training,” Santalab says. “It’s a special feeling when scoring a goal in front of your home fans, but the hard work is completed on the training pitch.”
As for any professional athlete, the right diet is crucial for Santalab. The Wanderers have partnered with Herbalife who are their nutritional partner. The team also have a nutritionist to guide each player through their own individual diet.
While Santalab loves his Croatian cuisine (his favourite is sarma, or stuffed cabbage rolls), before a game he is more focused on fuelling his body for optimum performance on the field. He starts off with Herbalife 24 F1 Sport to provide the right protein intake along with Herbalife’s CR7 Drive, (developed in conjunction with the legendary Cristiano Ronaldo), which provides him with the energy he needs while he’s on the field. He also uses Herbalife supplements and snacks.
It’s shaping up to be an exciting year for Santalab, and for the Wanderers. Will they manage to win that grand final glory?
“This season is shaping to be an exciting year for us,” Santalab says. “Our new recruits have strengthened us in every way and we’re thoroughly looking forward to October 8 when we play Sydney FC in Round 1.
“Goal-scoring is always my focus, but the team comes first. And lifting the A-League grand final trophy is the only thing I’m missing – that’s my main focus.”
Name Brendon Santalab
Position Forward #11
Follow him on Instagram @BSantalab