Time was right for Herbert to stand aside
OPINION: What legacy will Ricki Herbert leave as the inaugural Wellington Phoenix coach?
There are few questions that could lead to such a broad range of views.
An affable bloke who doesn't give much away (certainly not to the media), Herbert, the coach, has become a polarising figure in football circles. It seems for every positive there is a negative.
Some look at what he has achieved with the Phoenix in comparison to the fortunes of the Kingz and Knights, and what he achieved in guiding the All Whites to the 2010 World Cup, and believe he is one of the best things to ever happen to New Zealand football.
Detractors - including former players and others inside the game - have a more critical view of his coaching credentials, pointing to a losing record, recruitment failures, lack of titles, and few examples of genuinely developing players, particularly young New Zealanders.
Of the dozens of players who have represented the Phoenix during the past six seasons, only defender Ben Sigmund immediately springs to mind as a Kiwi who has gone from relative obscurity to an accomplished professional under Herbert.
Others were either made before they reached Wellington or have gone on to other clubs and made a name for themselves.
There's no doubt Herbert deserves more credit than many are willing to give him for his achievements with the Phoenix, but the time had come for him to move on.
The buck stops with the coach and there have been too many failures this season. In previous years he was able to get reasonable results out of limited resources but this season he had what was regarded as his best squad yet and they have been poor in most facets.
Even the fighting spirit synonymous with Herbert's teams appears to have gone missing on too many occasions and that was perhaps the most concerning factor.
There is little evidence to suggest Herbert could have turned things around. The A-League has moved on, both in terms of quality of players and style of play, but the Phoenix have not.
If the club wants to overhaul its philosophy and move into an era based on possession, speed and skill, fresh playing and coaching blood is required.
Herbert's teams made the six-team playoffs series in three out of five completed seasons, but never finished higher than fourth of 10 teams in the regular season, though they fell one game short of the grand final in 2009/10.
He is the longest serving coach in the league and led the Phoenix to three finals appearances in a row (an A-League record), but of the eight men who have coached in more than 100 A-League matches, he has the worst record.
He was loyal to his players - some would say too loyal - but despite some obvious successes (see Paul Ifill, Andrew Durante and Manny Muscat) there were too many recruitment failures, which often left him resorting to the tried and true - solid professionals but players who were unable to set a game alight.
It meant the football was often not pretty but could be hugely effective and was always - until this season at least - whole-hearted.
The Phoenix were unbeatable at home a couple of seasons ago - they set the record for the longest unbeaten streak at home in the A-League - and obvious highlights include the back-to-back home playoff wins in 2009/10, when more than 56,000 people piled into Westpac Stadium in the space of seven days.
Those were heady times which have never returned or been built upon. The Phoenix stagnated and have been overtaken at a fast clip. Crowds have dwindled to unacceptable levels and change was necessary.
Herbert can now fully concentrate on getting the All Whites to another World Cup.
Many find it surprising that he was allowed to continue so long in two demanding jobs and you wonder how much justice was done when one man was juggling the two most significant football coaching jobs in the land.
It's a situation that can surely never be repeated.
As for the next Phoenix coach, let's hope the net is cast far and wide.
As for Herbert, let's wish him well for the World Cup campaign and acknowledge the big part he played in the rise of the Phoenix.
There have been bad times but also some very good times, and that is a first for any professional football club in this country.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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