Ricki wakes up to reality
On Sunday night, after a 2-2 draw with Adelaide United, Ricki Herbert was bullish about the future of the Wellington Phoenix and the possibility of a late playoff push.
Yet apparently he woke up on Monday morning, wandered into the Phoenix offices, and tendered his resignation to the board.
What had changed overnight?
"I think the result on Sunday was certainly very positive for the club and certainly the direction we want to go in," said Phoenix general manager David Dome, who denied Herbert was about to be sacked if he didn't walk the plank.
"But there's no doubt that Ricki's probably been thinking about this for a while.
"When he woke up on Monday morning he probably thought, yeah . . . I don't know, we're not saying too much about what Ricki's thinking but certainly I think he's been thinking about it for a while and the time to move on is probably right for him.
"I think Ricki certainly felt the pressure of results over the last couple of weeks and he's wanted to concentrate on the All Whites campaign."
Regardless of the details, Herbert's resignation is the right thing for the club.
Fewer than 5000 people turned up to Westpac Stadium on Sunday, highlighting a Phoenix season that had veered dramatically off the rails.
Herbert and Terry Serepisos built the club from the ground up but after six years at the helm the on-field product had become stale.
Bottom of the A-League, and suffering 7-1 and 5-0 thrashings, was simply not good enough for a squad on paper considered to be the best in the club's history.
After three years of qualifying for the generous top-six playoffs, the reasons for the sudden decline this season are complex.
In part Herbert had run out of ideas and taken a squad built on All Whites veterans as far as he could.
The club's desire for a more attractive playing style didn't help his cause and he became confused and torn between chasing style points and actual ones.
Juggling twin coaching hats at the Phoenix and All Whites was also allowed to continue for too long.
It was impossible to do justice to both jobs and, with World Cup qualification games to prepare for, Herbert's move to a "football technical adviser" role at the Phoenix allows him to dedicate more time to the national cause.
The Phoenix, meanwhile, have a game to play against the Newcastle Jets tonight.
Caretaker coach Chris Greenacre refuses to give up on the finals.
"We just said, ‘Guys, the next six weeks you've got to eat, breathe and sleep this football club,' " Greenacre said.
" ‘That's all that matters, other than your families this is the most important thing in your lives.'
"And we'll be giving everything we can to make sure that this club is in the playoffs at the end of the season."
AT A GLANCE
What: A-League, Phoenix v Newcastle
Where: Westpac Stadium, Wellington
When: 7pm tonight
TV: Live on Sky Sport 3
TAB: Phoenix $2.10, Newcastle $3.30, Draw $3.30
The Dominion Post