Morgan in the thick of it at Phoenix training

SAM WORTHINGTON
Last updated 05:00 11/01/2013
Gareth Morgan
FAIRFAX NZ
CASH INJECTION: It's time for Gareth Morgan and the other members of the Wellington Phoenix ownership consortium, Welnix to invest in the club's future.

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New signing Ian Hogg was there as well, but it was Gareth Morgan's appearance which raised eyebrows at Wellington Phoenix training yesterday.

The Phoenix owner, more known for his economic and philanthropic exploits, wasn't exactly coaching the team, but he was certainly an active participant at Newtown Park as he scribbled down notes and listened in on team talks.

The Phoenix, who host Western Sydney at Westpac Stadium on Sunday, are languishing in ninth place in the A-League as they grapple with the club's desire for more attractive football.

But what do the players make of Morgan's new hands-on approach?

"He's the owner, he can do what he wants," Phoenix captain Andrew Durante said.

"If he wants to come in the changing room and give a talk, he can give a talk. That's his way of doing it, I haven't seen it very often and I'm not sure what notes he was taking there but if he wants to do it he can do it."

Durante was asked if it was uncomfortable for the players.

"No, not really. At the end of the day everyone's doing things at this club to make the club better. If Gareth feels that he needs to be closer to the team and analysing things, to be better for the football club, then we're all in favour of the club being better. Both as players, and the backroom staff as well. If it's going to be better and Gareth thinks it'll be better then fantastic."

Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert joked that Morgan was "the assistant coach now. I've just brought Gareth in, he's awesome", Herbert said, before explaining Morgan's role at training.

"We're doing a project, so [fellow owner] Henry Tait's here as well. So we're just looking at some revision around the club and maybe a little bit more resource and analysing things. Sort of videoing things and seeing what's important."

Herbert said Morgan had been invited to come to training and it wasn't a first for an owner to get involved on the pitch.

"I think [former owner] Terry [Serepisos] might have participated in a training session so he's gone one step further."

Did Morgan's presence on the pitch make Herbert uncomfortable?

"Why would that be? There's a few bosses at the club and Gareth's one of them. I have absolutely no problem at all.

"I've told you what we're doing with this club, it's building, brilliant. We need to win football matches on the weekend, that's a priority, we fully understand that, but the club's going to carry on being built.

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"It's exciting times, trust me."

There was plenty to talk about after training yesterday and Durante confirmed his desire to play for the All Whites when he becomes eligible in March.

The Australian defender was wary of getting too excited before Fifa had given him the green light but "I'm quite keen to play for the All Whites".

"I've been on the bench for a Socceroos game so there's always that, that Fifa can look at," Durante said.

"But the process is in motion and hopefully it all turns out all right and then in March everything's all rosy."

Durante has been in Wellington for five years, his daughter was born here and he owns property.

He admitted he was yet to learn the Maori version of the national anthem and had copped some friendly banter from his team-mates.

But the All Whites in the Phoenix had encouraged him to switch allegiances.

"I wanted to make sure everything was all right but the guys have been great with it, they've all said get on board and we want you part of it. So it's been really nice, that part of it and it's a big decision but to have them by my side, it makes it a lot easier and a lot more welcoming if it does happen."

Midfielder Manny Muscat remains sidelined but striker Tyler Boyd, 18, is available for Sunday's game after serving his one-match suspension in the 2-0 loss to Melbourne Victory.

Boyd ran with the first team at training and looks set to return to the starting XI against the Wanderers in place of Benjamin Totori.

Centre back Michael Boxall has dropped out of the 15-man squad, meaning Cameron Lindsay, who made his debut against the Victory, is poised to again sit on the bench with Totori, Alex Smith and Griffin McMaster.

Paul Ifill and Glen Moss remain on the injured list, while transfer regulations mean Hogg is not yet available for selection.

Despite their form slump, the Phoenix remain only two points behind sixth-placed Melbourne Heart and Durante remained confident of a fourth consecutive finals appearance.

- The Dominion Post

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