Phoenix in no rush to replace boss

BY FRED WOOCOCK
Last updated 05:00 03/06/2010
Tony Pignata
PHIL REID/The Dominion Post
RESIGNED: Tony Pignata CEO of the Wellington Phoenix has resigned.

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Phoenix owner Terry Serepisos is prepared to wait for as long as it takes to find a suitable replacement for outgoing chief executive Tony Pignata.

Pignata, appointed the inaugural chief executive in 2007, yesterday revealed his decision to resign because of family reasons.

His wife, Anna, and two young boys moved home to Melbourne in December, and the 45-year-old Australian said the strain of regular commuting had become too much. Next Friday will be his last day at the club.

He insisted "rumours" about Serepisos' financial situation had played no part in his decision.

In fact, Pignata believed he could not be leaving the club in better shape, forecasting it would break even next season when taking into account the windfall from Fifa for having World Cup players (about $500,000) and increased revenue from sponsorship deals. Also, season memberships were tracking at three times the level they were at the same time last year.

"I feel as though I'm leaving the Phoenix in a great position, both from a financial point of view and what we can achieve on the field," Pignata said.

For that reason, Serepisos said he would not be rushing to find a replacement.

Head of commercial operations and one of Serepisos' sidekicks on The Apprentice, Nathan Greenham, would act as chief executive in the meantime.

"The team we've got are quite well-equipped to carry it on without Tony, even after the season starts [August 13], so I'm very comfortable," Serepisos said.

"All our contracts are in place, and the Boca Juniors game is signed and sealed, so there isn't anything we can't deal with. I'm very happy with where the club is at. It's in a better state than it's ever been."

New Zealand Football chief executive Michael Glading said the national body would not seek any input regarding the appointment of the next CEO, but would not be surprised if Serepisos did consult them. "It's totally Terry's call, but he has consulted us on several things in the past. He's very open."

Glading said Pignata "deserves a lot of credit" for the current state of football in New Zealand while Serepisos said he had done an "amazing job".

"It's a shame he's leaving but family comes first," Serepisos said. "It's been hard on him commuting week in, week out, but the job he has done for the club has been unbelievable."

Pignata was emotional when he told the players and staff of his decision, which he described as the "hardest I've ever had to make".

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He had been weighing up a move home for several months but had wanted to achieve three major milestones before leaving – re-sign Sony as major sponsors, see the club get a five-year licence extension, and complete the Boca Juniors match deal.

"I've achieved all of that and I'm leaving football here on a high, so I can go back to Melbourne and look back fondly on the three years. It's been an absolute privilege to play a part in forming and growing a club."

Always open and up front with the media, Pignata is well respected by the fans. He was awarded personality of the year at last week's Yellow Fever awards, ahead of the likes of Ricki Herbert and Paul Ifill.

"I was staggered. It means a lot to me, more so than any award I've ever won."

Pignata, who has a background in banking and was head of the Victorian football federation before joining the Phoenix, will return to Melbourne with no job waiting for him, though he will be busy in June.

"I've got two teams I can support at the World Cup, the Socceroos and the All Whites, and Italy to a lesser degree."

- The Dominion Post

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