OPINION: Nobody can argue with the desire of the Wellington Phoenix's owners to get the side on a sustainable financial footing. The consortium of businessmen who saved New Zealand's only professional football team in 2011 cannot be expected to pour millions of dollars a year into a venture that is losing money.
However, fans are right to question the way the club's financiers and managers have gone about making the changes they believe will bring results and attract the crowds needed for the Phoenix to at least break even.
Before co-owner Gareth Morgan announced in December that the Phoenix had decided to play a more "sexy" brand of football, they were well on track to make the playoffs for the fourth year in a row. Since then, they have won just one game from six, and they now languish at the bottom of the table, five points shy of a finals spot.
Dr Morgan says the change of tactics was agreed with coach Ricki Herbert either before, or soon after, the season began. If so, Herbert does not seem to have told his players.
The subsequent confusion was brutally exposed in the 7-1 hammering dished out to the Phoenix last Saturday by fellow strugglers Sydney.
The problem with attempting a change in style midway through the season is that the players at present assembled do not have the collective skill set for the sort of football Dr Morgan wants to see. Expecting them to suddenly start playing like Barcelona or Manchester United would be like ushering Dr Morgan, an economist by trade, into an operating theatre and asking him to perform brain surgery.
Dr Morgan has hit out at this newspaper's coverage of the team's woes, describing it as a hate campaign and attacking individual reporters. He is wrong. The Dominion Post's interest in the Phoenix is the same as Dr Morgan's – we want a successful side.
Having said that, the owner's campaign for the Phoenix to play a prettier brand of football has merit. The aim is to build, over time, a team that can truly foot it with the A League's best and to attract the sort of crowds the club needs to stand on its own financially.
But it will take time. Dr Morgan is therefore right to plead for fans to be patient – although branding them "pathetic" was hardly diplomatic.
In the meantime, if Wellington is to retain a professional football team, football fans need to start showing their support.
If they do not start turning up in greater numbers, there is a danger the Phoenix's benefactors might decide the huge generosity they have shown is not worth the effort and expense. After all, why should they keep spending if insufficient numbers of football fans can be bothered to contribute?
The Phoenix have been a wonderful asset to Wellington. They have brought colour, excitement and some of the biggest names in world football to the city – David Beckham and Alessandro Del Piero, to name but two.
Fans cannot expect Dr Morgan and his colleagues to be the only ones dipping into their wallets to keep them going. Those who recognise the value the Phoenix bring to Wellington have to play their part, too.
Tomorrow, when the Phoenix host Newcastle, would be a good start.
- © Fairfax NZ News