Q: At your first press conference you talked about plans for an extraordinary pre-season. What did that mean and have you achieved it?
A: A lot of people might have a misconception about pre-season and think it's just about the first XI or fitness. But a pre-season is really about setting your team up for the year and how you're going to play. Selecting your squad, getting to the maximum level of fitness, finding out technically and tactically where they're best suited as players. It's been a very thorough pre-season. We've played nine friendly matches, we've lost two of them by a goal and we've scored a lot of goals.
Q: What have you put in place to improve the club's poor away record?
A: It's not just this club, it's a fact that almost all teams have poorer results away from home. First of all the mental attitude is ‘anywhere, anytime'. There's no excuses and the second is getting into routines and protocols. Like no caffeine on travelling day, the day before and certainly on match day. Maximum hydration, compression garments, massage, a stretching session before, during and after the flight. There's a whole range of protocols to reduce the effects of flights.
Q: You have a tough start to the season. The All Whites are away in round one and you don't play in Wellington until December . . .
A: It's not ideal but at the same time we fly the flag in other parts of the country which is important. We're up in Napier, we go to Christchurch. We'll deal with it. We really want to do well for the fans.
Q: Kenny Cunningham is your biggest signing so far. How has he fitted in and what can we expect from him?
A: He's a regular international and he's a very quick, exciting, attacking player. He's 28 so he's really experienced. I think the combination of him, Carlos Hernandez, Paul Ifill, Jeremy Brockie, with Leo Bertos, Stein Huysegems and Tyler Boyd, there's a fair amount of firepower there.
Q: Fullback and central midfield are the obvious areas with question marks over them . . .
A: There's no doubt about that, when you bring young players into the squad, nobody's got any time or patience for them, they want instant results. But I'm really happy with the development of Reece Caira at left back, he's the No 1 choice, and I was really happy with Louis Fenton until his injury. The midfield is the area I think this team can improve the most in. I've been doing a lot of work with Vince Lia and Manny Muscat on how we play out. But the assistance they gain from having Carlos in front of them is just enormous. He can hold a ball under pressure, feed the ball back through, he can build up play. The three of them have just clicked. I just hope they get the time to develop and build that engine room. I think we've got the right players there but I'm still looking for a back-up in that position.
Q: A back-up rather than an import?
A: There's no restrictions. When I say a back-up, a back-up is only a back-up probably in week one. After that they're fighting for a first-team place as well. If they're not good enough to be a first-team player then they probably won't get signed. I'm keeping an eye overseas and I'm keeping an eye on local talent.
Q: And Gareth Morgan is your new neighbour? He's keeping an eye on you from above?
A: Yes, Gareth is a good man, he and his wife Jo, their heart's in the right place. All the board and owners I've found extremely supportive. The chairman Rob Morrison, Henry Tait, Noah Hickey, these guys have been fantastic.
Q: I imagine it is a very different feel than it was at Victory where winning was demanded every week. Obviously people here want results but you've also been given a mandate to develop young Kiwi talent . . .
A: Our aim is to build something that's enduring, a team that is always competitive, home-and-away, and a team that achieves finals. If we're in the finals then we reset our goals. We're building but the bottom line is it's about going out and winning matches. We've got seven boys that are 20 or under so it's a fresher team. I don't think we'll be at our best until seven, eight, nine games in, but I'm happy with the way they're shaping up.
Q: You've been away from the A-League for two years. What have you learnt in that time and do you think the league has changed?
A: For the 22 months I was out of the league, I was heavily involved in international football in Hong Kong. And as part of retaining my professional licence I went back to Europe for courses. Unless you're prepared to innovate, change and move forward, the game passes you by. You've got to look at world's best practise and try to adapt to the team you have. This is a unique team, the Phoenix style of play. I try to play a brand of football that's exciting, produces goals and is able to retain possession in key areas to create goalscoring opportunities from flanks or directly through the middle.
Q: Who are the teams to beat this season?
A: Obviously the big spenders will be out front; Sydney, Wanderers, Melbourne Victory, but I think all the other teams will be right alongside them.
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