Who Next For The Nix?

With Ernie Merrick’s departure the big question in New Zealand is who will be his replacement, here I look at some of the rumoured candidates (my rating of each of the managers’ suitability for the role are in brackets):

Frank Farina (5/10)

a-frank

Experienced and at Brisbane showed he is willing to put his faith in youth but dour is the word to best describe some of the teams he has managed. Would likely solve some of the problems affecting the current Phoenix team but long term he would have to be very successful for the fans to accept his style of play.

Mark Rudan (8/10)

a-rudan

The favourite and another who is used to developing young players, he is the currently working with the Australian Under 20s. Lacks top flight managerial experience but was successful in the Australian lower leagues. His lack of managerial experience may be seen as a negative but can also be seen as a positive as he would likely jump at the chance to manage in the A-League.

Chris Greenacre (4/10)

a-greenacre

Has been assistant coach to both of the previous Phoenix managers as well as finishing his career with the Nix and therefore knows the club well. This familiarity may be a hindrance though if the board wants to make a clean break with previous regimes

Ramon Tribulietx (7/10)

a-trib

Easily the most successful coach on the list, who else can say they have guided their club to third place in the World Club Championship? He knows the New Zealand game inside and out due to his time managing Auckland City and his appointment would show his fellow Stirling Sports Premiership coaches that there is a pathway into the bigger leagues.

Neil Emblen (6/10)

a-emblen

Another who is well versed in New Zealand football as he is assistant head coach for the All Whites. Would be a long shot but his time at Waitakere United proved he can be successful.

Ross Aloisi (3/10)

a-alosi

Assistant manager at the Brisbane Roar he would be another long shot who probably only makes this list because of his time captaining the Phoenix in their debut A-League season.

Ricki Herbert (6.5/10)

a-herbert

Would appointing Herbert be a step backwards? Easily the Phoenix’s most successful coach he has proven he knows how to be successful in the A-League and will know how New Zealand football works from his time as the All Whites coach. Could be considered a safe pair of hands but how often does a successful coach returning to his old club work out?

Next Phoenix Manager Must Look To The Future First

Monday was obviously the day for resignations in this corner of the world with John Key stepping down as the New Zealand Prime Minister. Whilst this may have come as a bit of a shock to some the other key resignation (no pun intended, honestly), was perhaps a little less of a surprise. Since he has been at the Phoenix it is fair to say his side have underperformed. I am not one of those Nix fans who believe we should be up near the top of the table, not yet anyway, but the Phoenix’s current position propping up the bottom of the table is unacceptable.

It became clear as the season progressed that Merrik was struggling to find answers to these problems as he reached for the old faithful for a manager under pressure, he started blaming the refs. Now whilst the refs may have made a few mistakes in the A-League this season I don’t believe the Phoenix have been specifically targeted and, as any Stoke fan will tell you, criticising the man in the middle only leads to a spiralling level of distrust between the club and the officials.

Earlier in the season I wrote that the Phoenix’s early season form needs to be taken in context, they started out with matches against you expect to be challenging for the title at the end of the season, but I also warned that the Phoenix are not putting in the hard yards when the opposition have the ball and, just like Stoke, they do not have a striker you would back to constantly find the net.

Whoever takes over from Merrik has to address these issues and whilst the allure of managing in the A-League may be attractive to some candidates the clubs position will surely put some of the better candidates off. What the Phoenix’s board has to do is give the new manager the rest of this season to evaluate the club’s personal and come up with a strategy to make the Phoenix competitive for future seasons.

It is conceivable that the Phoenix can still make the play-offs and if they do any team can beat another on a given day but if this does happen, and personally I feel it is a long shot, it cannot be brought about due to a short term solution being put in place. If you look at Sunderland, they seem to be perennially in trouble only to be saved by a change in manager after Christmas before starting the following season in a similar fashion, this is because a short term solution is exactly what it says on the tin, short term!

The fact that there is no relegation from the A-League means the constant threat of relegation, which teams like Sunderland face, is not there and in giving any new manager six months breathing space he is able to not only identify his transfer targets early but is able to run his eye over the younger players currently playing in the Stirling Sports Premiership.

Any Nix fan will tell you that supporting the Phoenix is unique because not only are you supporting your club but your national football federation and if I was the Phoenix fans to get behind the new manager, no matter who he is, but also to be patient. There are good players coming through the system and the Young Nix are in the top half of New Zealand’s top flight. It will be up to the next coach to identify and bring through those Young Nix players they feel are good enough and to integrate them into the senior squad. What better way to do this is there than to have these players in and around the first team squad for the rest of the A-League season?

Hope and Hypocrisy

At the weekend the Wellington Phoenix lost 2-1 to Melbourne City but rather than being despondent the Phoenix fans should look at the way their team played and realise come the end of the season they should be in the play-offs. Yes, the Phoenix left Melbourne empty handed but all that separated the two teams was an unlucky ricochet.

I know Eddie Merrick and Andrew Durante are complaining about the Melbourne City penalty which eventually won the game but if you look at the penalty awarded to the Phoenix and the one awarded to Melbourne there is a little bit of hypocrisy at play here:

There is no doubt that Barbarouses’ shirt was tugged but personally I am annoyed by the theatrical dive from the Phoenix player who after beating his man would have been able to attack the Melbourne goal if he had stayed on his feet, instead the curse of the modern game came into play and Barbarouses dived. In the end the Phoenix got what they deserved but if the referee hadn’t have given the penalty they had wasted a great chance of a goal and more importantly the next time Barbarouses goes down I will be questioning whether there was any contact?

Similarly, I can see no reason why the Melbourne City penalty wasn’t given. Rossi is the player who pulls at Fornaroli’s shirt and whilst it is true the Melbourne player grabs hold of Rossi’s shirt this is after the foul has been committed and you could argue was only done to steady themselves.

There has been a lot of discussion this season over the quality of the refereeing in the A-League and whilst there have been some shockers the number and severity of these are not to dissimilar to any league around the world. Manager’s like Merrick need to be careful that these constant attacks don’t become background noise because when a true miscarriage of justice does occur, just like Barbarouses’ diving, it is going to be difficult to judge whether it is real or just another boy crying wolf!

The Manchester United of New Zealand

The news that Auckland City have put their name in the frame, however tentatively, as a candidate for an A-League licence in any future A-League expansion should be greeted with enthusiasm by the New Zealand football public, the Wellington Phoenix and the rest of the Stirling Sports Premiership.

Despite the initial shock of losing the premier team in the Stirling Sports Premiership, fellow teams and administrators should look upon Auckland City trying to take the next step up as an opportunity for their teams to capitalise on and become the next Auckland City.

Few football fans in New Zealand will have been unaware of Auckland City’s recent performances at the World Club Championship but if they do move to the A-League, just like the Phoenix, they will be ineligible to represent New Zealand in the Oceanic Champions League. This means that the likes of Waitakere United, Team Wellington and Canterbury United have a chance to reach the pinnacle of the world club game and would be able to benefit from the exposure and financial rewards this would offer. And for those football fans living on the South Island hopefully one of the Uniteds, Canterbury, Southern or Tasman can benefit by challenging to be one of the dominant teams in the Stirling Sports Premiership and provide the South Island the exposure its dedicated footballing community deserves.

As for the Wellington Phoenix, having another New Zealand team in the A-League will provide a domestic rivalry of the type that drives any great club. Where would Celtic be without Rangers and what about the passion when Manchester United play Liverpool, not to mention Real Madrid and Barcelona’s rivalry which transcends football.

In addition, if Auckland were to get one of the two rumoured expansion places, it would be a sign the A-League has mellowed in its views about having a team from their Trans-Tasman cousins. The issues around the Phoenix’s licence renewal have been well documented and as fans we all need to buy into the culture and the club to prove to the Australians we deserve to be in the A-League but how much easier would that be if we had the incentive of trying to get the better of our Auckland cousins.

However, the A-League’s prevarications around the Phoenix’s licence renewal last year are one of the reasons why I fear Auckland City will be down the list when it comes to preferred expansion options, put simply the Australian’s are focused on the Australian game. Whilst this may be reasonable I hope the A-League decision makers can look beyond their own shores and realise Auckland is the fifth biggest city in Australasia and as such has a potentially massive fan base.

It may seem strange I am advocating a team that didn’t even win its domestic title last year but they are the biggest team in the league and their promotion would be a massive boost for the game in New Zealand, from the increased exposure to the doubling of opportunities for young players, to potentially more All White Internationals being able to earn a living in the country that they represent. So for now I’ll cross my fingers, hope the Phoenix’s recent good form continues and of course hope anyone but Auckland City win the Stirling Sports Premiership.

They may be the brightest hope for the future of the game in this country but they are still the Manchester United of New Zealand.

 

The Hottest Hands in Football

After recently highlighting the problems A-league footballers are having as groundsman try to combat the overpopulation of rabbits I thought I would share with you what appears to be the hottest hands in football.

After appearing to receive a boot sized in print on his tender parts Brisbane Roar’s Isaias placed his hand on his aggressors face only to be shocked when, going by Neil Kilkenny’s reaction, his touch began to melt the Melbourne City player’s face.

If you think there may be another explanation please let me know:

Wellington Phoenix – Deja Vu

After the four opening rounds of the A-League it is beginning to feel like déjà vu for me as the team I support in the A-league, Wellington Phoenix, have endured a start to the season as horrific as that of Stoke City’s. Just like the mighty Potters, the Phoenix find themselves bottom of the table and shipping in goals but for all you Phoenix fans out there it must also be noted that, just like Stoke City, these opening four matches were against teams you would expect to be in the top half of the table come the end of the season.

Now the disheartening part, I fear the Phoenix are not going to rise like the Potters. At the moment the team in yellow and black are missing a holding midfielder, have no out and out goal scorer and are not doing the hard work when the opposition have the ball, again déjà vu. Stoke had all of these problems at the start of the season and have found answers but I am afraid I can’t see any for the Phoenix in the near future which is a problem not only for them but for football in New Zealand.

Wellington Phoenix are New Zealand’s only representative in Australia’s A-League and it is perfectly clear the Australian Football Association don’t want their trans-Tasman cousins involved but are unable to find a politically correct way of forcing them to jump ship. But if the Phoenix continue to underperform, and subsequently their attendances continue to fall, the club’s owners must surely start to reconsider their investment in the franchise and with no A-League presence talented Kiwi footballers would then have to leave the country a lot earlier in life if they are to follow their football dreams.

With so much at stake it was interesting then to read an article in the Stuff bemoaning the perceived bias of referees in the A-League against the Phoenix but having watched three of the Phoenix’s four matches this season I have to disagree. Whilst Alan Milliner’s performance on Monday was so bad I wouldn’t want him refereeing the Boy and most of his decisions did favour the Phoenix his performance I feel, and sincerely hope, is an exception rather than the rule. I can and do sympathise with those fans who feel the whole world is against them, remember I am a Stoke fan first and foremost, but sometimes you have to take a step back and try and see what is really going on behind the excuses. McGlinchy’s goal against Sydney was highlighted as a perceived bias but if you watch the replay the lineswoman got the decision spot on, there were in fact two Phoenix players offside when the ball was crossed!

Referees have traditionally favoured the home team, think Manchester United under old red nose, and being the only Kiwi team in an Australian league is going to highlight their mistakes but the referees are not the reason why the Phoenix are failing this season. The reasons are a lack of quality personnel, which can’t be rectified until January, and a lack of work rate which can and should be being looked at on the training pitch and until the Phoenix take a leaf out of the Stoke book from this season they are always going to be second best.

But having said all that remember the Phoenix have had a tough start to the season and next week they play host to last season’s wooden spoon winners, the Newcastle Jets. If the team can up their intensity and work rate maybe they won’t have to worry about whether the referee is favouring their opponents over them!