Phoenix drama could attract fans

ON THE WAY OUT? Ricki Herbert has reportedly tendered his resignation as coach of the Wellington Phoenix.
ON THE WAY OUT? Ricki Herbert has reportedly tendered his resignation as coach of the Wellington Phoenix.

How wonderful it would be for us media folk, web forums and talkback radio if the Wellington Phoenix played in Adelaide every week - A-League football would become a regular topic at the water cooler on Monday mornings.

If it's not allegations of cheating (remember the Jeronimo saga) and shonky refereeing, it's the disgraceful act of racial abuse by a home fan against Paul Ifill, and more shoddy officiating. All great fodder, even if it pales when compared to what New Zealand Cricket are capable of providing us.

Of course, the Phoenix might object to having to play in Adelaide every week (although the upside is the controversy generated does deflect the microscope a little). Adelaide has historically been a graveyard for them - they've won just twice at Hindmarsh in five-and-a-half seasons - and when you strip away all the juicy storylines from their two visits this season, the reading is grim.

Six goals against, two goals for. two losses, no points. Sunday's 3-1 defeat takes their record for the season to three wins, three draws and five losses, which puts them seventh of 10 teams. They're just two points ahead of last-placed Sydney, but only five off third-placed Melbourne Victory.

The football has not been flash this season but there were signs of progress on Sunday night. Down 3-0 after three poor pieces of defending - Mark Paston should not be blamed, it was the men in front of him who were found wanting - they played some of their best football of the season in the second half.

Admittedly Adelaide failed to put their foot on the throat, but the Phoenix knocked the ball around nicely, created several very good chances, and on another night might even have snatched a 3-3 draw. Stein Huysegems had a legitimate goal ruled out and the impressive youngster Tyler Boyd had a last-minute penalty saved, twice. All a little too late, though.

You wouldn't go as far as to say it was co-owner Gareth Morgan's idea of 'total football' - what is he thinking even throwing that term out in relation to this Phoenix squad? -  but it was a step forward from the previous couple of weeks and not just the usual approach of getting the ball wide and crossing it into the box.

It will be interesting to see just how Ricki Herbert and his coaching staff approach the rest of the season after last week's tune-up from Morgan.

While publicly he said Morgan's criticism of their style of play, and instruction to play a more attractive style for fans - a la Spain and Barcelona - was "great" and "positive", there is no doubt Herbert will be seething behind closed doors.

Here is a man, Morgan, with no background in the game or depth of knowledge, telling the long-time All Whites and Phoenix coach, a man who has played internationally and professionally in England, how his team should play football, and publicly at that.

Like all coaches, Herbert dislikes criticism, especially from those outside the game and he's been known to fire back at 'non-football' journalists who question tactical decisions. Morgan should have gone about it in a less-public manner.

However, the owner pays the bills and like all employers, if he doesn't like a job an employee is doing, it's his right to say it. Morgan was not exactly off the mark with what he was saying, and his vision that the club become known for its brand of football, with coaches forced to uphold it, is admirable.

Of course, it will take years of development and high quality coaching to produce New Zealand's answers to Andres Iniesta, Xavi and Lionel Messi. He is going to have to get the chequebook out in the short term and that means buying one or two exceptional A-League midfielders.

He can't expect Herbert and his men to play like Barcelona with the players they've got. It simply won't happen.

Brisbane Roar did it brilliantly for two seasons because they had a high-class player in Thomas Broich to base play around, and a coach in Ange Postecoglou committed to perfecting it. So let's see the money, Gareth.

The Dominion Post