The great unknown: Herbert’s Indian adventure

SAM WORTHINGTON
Last updated 05:00 23/08/2014
Ricki Herbert
ROBERT CHARLES/Fairfax NZ
NEW CHALLENGE: Former All Whites coach Ricki Herbert has arrived in India to start as coach of North East United in the inaugural Indian Super League.

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Ricki Herbert is no fan of curry.

''I wouldn't say I'm the most adventurous eater,'' New Zealand football's former supremo admits from his hotel room in Mumbai.

''But no doubt we'll give it a go over the next couple of weeks.''

There will be little option.

Fighting a heavy cold picked up on his flight, Herbert is speaking hours before the Indian Super League's inaugural international player draft on Thursday.

He was appointed coach of North East United on Tuesday, his first gig since resigning as All Whites boss during November's tumultuous World Cup qualification playoff against Mexico.

He has kept a low profile since; occupying his time on the Kapiti Coast and working on his academy although a trip to the World Cup as a member of Fifa's technical committee was valuable for ''connections and communications''.

The 53-year-old is happy to talk about his new role but has no interest in revisiting his old one, simply stating: ''Let's just wish everybody all the best and move forward. I'm not sure what their plans are really and I don't read a lot but good luck to them. Hopefully they can get back to a World Cup, it would be great for the game.''

Back to India, then.

A surprise move to most, Herbert says the origins of his new job can be traced back to the Wellington Phoenix's infamous pre-season trip to India in 2012.

In between traumatic bus rides, the Phoenix played against a side called Shillong Lajong.

The I-League outfit are the parent club of Guwahati-based North East, which will play in a three-month, eight-team competition modelled after cricket's Indian Premier League.

Shillong owner Larsing Ming Sawyan is also North East's co-owner.

''We played against them with the Phoenix so Larsing I knew,'' Herbert said.

''They really want to build young players for the future. So that's primarily my job, I think, at this stage.''

Cricket icons Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly own ISL teams while North East's big-name co-owner is Bollywood star John Abraham.

''I met John yesterday and he's a very successful person,'' Herbert said.

''He's a fantastic guy, we talked for half an hour in his office. They've got some cricketing icons in a couple of the franchises and that speaks volumes for what they're thinking, what the potential could look like. So it's pretty cool to have those guys involved.''

Herbert has 26 players on his roster after Thursday's draft.

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His big gun is Joan Capdevila, a 36-year-old left back who won the 2010 World Cup with Spain.

Most of the roster is homegrown but there is representation from Zambia, Trinidad and Tobago, Senegal, South Korea, England, Brazil and the Czech Republic.

The league runs from October-December and is bankrolled by IMG-Reliance in collaboration with Rupert Murdoch's Star India group.

There have been troubles aplenty: the league's kickoff date has already been postponed three times while the Bangalore franchise withdrew for unspecified reasons this week and was replaced by Team Chennai.

Organisers expect ageing stars Thierry Henry, Dwight Yorke, Hernan Crespo, Freddie Ljungberg and David Trezeguet to play.

''It's pretty decent money,'' Herbert confirms.

''But from my perspective - and people always sort of speculate - it's not a financial move for me. It's a very exciting opportunity to be a part of something that's new again. My wife is coming over which I think will be great, you know, culturally it's so different and I think it'll be fantastic for her.

''It'll be an interesting league with such a global interest. I've got the academy up and running and going well but I'm very keen to taste what this is like and have a different experience.

''It's like having the A-League and then all of a sudden over the top of that comes a Super A-League competition, with six top international players in every team. It'll be big, with the population in India and the way they want to do things.

''In five or six days I'm going to be on the grass. It'll be pretty cool.''

- The Dominion Post

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