NZ Football boss Andy Martin making his mark
New Zealand Football boss Andy Martin says there is some hope that Oceania will be granted direct entry into the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
But, failing that unexpected leg-up, Fifa has given assurances that the playoff path will be through Asia, rather than the tough Concacaf region which tripped the All Whites up last year.
Reflecting on his first six months in the hot seat, Martin is pleased with the calibre of personnel he has been able to attract, most notably the ambitious Anthony Hudson as All Whites coach and the well-credentialed Rob Sherman as technical director for the community game.
But no matter how well Hudson and Sherman perform, New Zealand are at long odds to make a return to the game's grandest stage should they again draw the likes of mighty Mexico in an intercontinental playoff.
It makes the work that the Oceania Football Confederation is doing behind the scenes vital if the All Whites are to make their third World Cup appearance.
''We're working very closely with OFC and lobbying Fifa around the World Cup qualification process,'' said Martin, the Englishman who joined NZF following stints at London Irish rugby club and Barclay's bank.
''There is some talk of direct entry. That will be tough to achieve, but that would be fantastic. It's not nice having a World Cup where not all the confederations are represented, as we just had in Brazil. I think the senior figures in Fifa are aware of that.
"That said, trying to move qualification entry points around is going to be difficult. That's our first objective but if that's not the case then we're getting assurances that the playoff will be through Asia.''
New Zealand's two World Cup appearances have come through Asia: beating China to qualify for 1982 and Bahrain to earn a spot in 2010.
Martin expected the path to be resolved in March as part of Fifa's presidential election campaign process.
In the meantime, NZF is placing an emphasis on securing fixtures against Asian opponents, with a game locked in against Uzbekistan on September 8 and clashes with China and Malaysia on the radar for November.
After wisely taking some time to assess the landscape in the wake of last November's tumultuous World Cup qualifiers, Martin is beginning to make his mark on the game.
Hudson and Sherman's appointments follow that of community football director Cameron Mitchell; a high performance plan is due for release next month and a Wellington Phoenix bid to join the 2014-15 national league has been approved.
NZF high performance director Fred de Jong will now oversee a technical committee comprising Hudson, Sherman and Football Ferns coach Tony Readings.
''We're looking for those three to set the footballing DNA for New Zealand,'' Martin said.
''The idea being that players are being prepared for the senior levels in a consistent fashion. That already happens with the Ferns, as we've seen with the under-20 girls doing very well at the World Cup [reaching the quarterfinals].
"We want to make sure we can do that across the rest of the game. I feel confident that we've got good people in place, who have got credibility in the game, who are qualified in the game and can therefore set direction for us.
"Clearly the game has moved on considerably in recent times and the World Cup was a very attacking tournament.''
Sherman, NZF's high performance manager in 2007-08, has been lured back across the ditch after a spell as head of coach education at Football Federation Australia.
''He's been coaching some of the very top coaches in the A-League and is a very credible guy. That's really been the focus of my first six months, to make sure we've got the right bums on seats in terms of capability, so they can really drive forward with the plans that we've got for the game.''
It is early days but Martin is providing a much needed steady hand on the tiller.
He described NZF's financial position as stable but warned against a belief in some quarters that he had ''money to spend all over the place''.
A major ambition is to ramp up the profile and standard of the national league, with a vision of each of the franchises eventually boasting age-grade and women's teams to go with their own academies.
''We're going to make mistakes but what's been great is that people have been prepared to talk directly to us so they become informed critics rather than non-informed critics.
"A lot of the big opinion makers in the game we've got regular dialogue with and we'll keep talking and listening.
''The last thing we want is people who love the game, who are passionate about the game, becoming disenfranchised. We're trying to make sure they're all part of it going forward.''
The Dominion Post