Herbert survives despite lack of silverware

SAM WORTHINGTON
Last updated 05:00 05/01/2013
Ricki Herbert
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CONSERVATIVE: Once a defender, always a defender. It's in Ricki Herbert's DNA.

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Ricki Herbert will tonight become the longest serving coach in the history of the A-League when his Wellington Phoenix kick off against Melbourne Victory at AAMI Park.

The 51-year-old made his debut with the now defunct New Zealand Knights in 2006 and has been at the helm of the Phoenix since their inception a year later.

Tonight will be Herbert's 152nd league game barking out orders, overtaking Ernie Merrick, who led the Victory to two titles between 2005 and 2011.

The closest Herbert has come to touching silverware was the 2009-10 season when the Phoenix lost to Sydney FC in the preliminary final.

Including five games with the Auckland-based Knights, Herbert's record reads 55 wins, 35 draws and 61 losses.

"It's a huge honour and privilege to have gone that far so I feel very proud, to be fair," Herbert told The Dominion Post after the Phoenix trained in 42 degrees Celsius heat in Melbourne yesterday.

"Unfortunately [the Knights] had gone off the rails and it was at a very poor state at that stage. I certainly wasn't walking into Man United. It was a difficult time but probably a good experience to go through it. And then on to a club that got off the ground in three months and has now been to three finals series. It's a football club that I started with Terry [Serepisos] and I'm proud to still be here now, building towards the future in whatever capacity."

There is no doubt that Herbert's exploits with the All Whites at the 2010 World Cup has helped with his job security at the Phoenix, although he has come under increased scrutiny this season.

The Phoenix had visions of a top-two finish this season, yet after 14 rounds they are seventh and there have been grumblings about the team's dour style of football.

Herbert comes off contract as coach at the end of the season but Phoenix chairman Rob Morrison has said a two-year option will be activated - either as coach or a director of football.

Herbert said a decision on which would be determined at the end of the campaign.

"For me it's just making sure that this club is the best it can be, and if the owners think I'm the best person to coach the side then fine, absolutely no problem at all. I'm excited either way, to be fair."

Herbert said the club had done a "U-turn" on its on-field approach this season as it worked towards a more attractive, high tempo style.

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He will take a risk tonight by promoting Stein Huysegems and Benjamin Totori to a starting XI already including Jeremy Brockie, Louis Fenton and Dani Sanchez.

That leaves Vince Lia alone as a defensive midfielder against a side boasting the league's most lethal attack in Marco Rojas, Archie Thompson and Marcos Flores.

Brockie will play just in behind Belgian striker Huysegems, with Totori and Fenton on the flanks and Sanchez partnering Lia in midfield.

It is arguably the most attacking lineup Herbert has ever named.

"With where we're heading, I don't want to change tack," Herbert said.

"Melbourne's quality is there and the danger is there, and that's something that we need to be cautious of. But we have changed at the club and I want to keep that momentum going.

"If we have some ups and downs, we've just got to keep getting better at looking after the ball, passing the ball, get more pace into the team. Benji comes in, he's good, he's quick, he gets on the ball a little bit better in midfield for us. We've got to keep looking towards where we're heading and I'm happy to do that."

Herbert also expressed his frustration with Manny Muscat, who was suspended for three games for twice elbowing Nick Fitzgerald during Tuesday's 2-1 loss to the Brisbane Roar.

Combative midfielder Muscat was previously suspended for four pre-season games for his actions in a wild melee against the Newcastle Jets.

"He's a key component of the team, he's a strong member of the starting XI and to have him away now for three weeks is tough. We're hugely disappointed, but we have to cop this one on the chin and move on."

Herbert also confirmed the Phoenix were close to signing a new player, with an announcement likely early next week.

An initial list of half a dozen players has been whittled down to three, as Herbert mulls over whether to go with a defender or an attacking midfielder.

"It will be in my thoughts to play the player in a couple of A-League games to make a clearer assessment on whether the player would warrant signing longer-term," Herbert said.

"It's a decision on either midfield or more of a defensive-type player."

Melbourne's heat wave is expected to ease today with a high of 28C forecast.

HOW THEY LINE UP

Victory (possible): Nathan Coe, Matthew Foschini, Nick Ansell, Adrian Leijer, Adama Traore, Mark Milligan, Jonathan Bru, Billy Celeski, Marcos Flores, Marco Rojas, Archie Thompson. Bench (from): Tando Velaphi, Leigh Broxham, Spase Dilevski, Andrew Nabbout, Jimmy Jeggo, Isaka Cernak, Theo Markelis

Phoenix: Mark Paston, Leo Bertos, Ben Sigmund, Andrew Durante, Tony Lochhead, Vince Lia, Dani Sanchez, Benjamin Totori, Louis Fenton, Jeremy Brockie, Stein Huysegems. Bench: Griffin McMaster, Michael Boxall, Cameron Lindsay, Alex Smith

- The Dominion Post

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