As if 10 winless games wasn't bad enough, the Wellington Phoenix are now having to put out fires around their star player, Carlos Hernandez.
The 31-year-old playmaker arrived in Wellington in July and is unhappy that his wife and children remain at home in Costa Rica.
The Phoenix issued a short statement yesterday saying they were working with Hernandez and his agent to resolve the issue and reunite him with his family.
Chairman Rob Morrison said the situation wasn't created by Phoenix management but he and club officials would not comment further.
Phoenix general manager David Dome is overseas, leaving the talking to coach Ernie Merrick.
Merrick said the original plan was for both Hernandez and fellow Costa Rican international Kenny Cunningham to have their families in Wellington by now.
But Merrick also absolved Phoenix management of any blame.
"We certainly aimed towards early December and then Carlos' son's passport had expired," Merrick said yesterday upon returning to Wellington from Thursday's 1-0 loss to Central Coast in Sydney.
"And then they [the Hernandez family] didn't send all the correct stuff off to get their visa.
"Then they couldn't fly through the USA because there's a whole range of problems. It wasn't a financial problem then so I don't know actually what the problem is.
"I'm not sure, I just know Shaun Gill [operations manager] was working very hard. One family [the Cunninghams] are sorted and I don't know about the other one, what the holdup is."
Hernandez has a reputation for being high maintenance and a source in Australia described his "blow up", along with the Phoenix's poor form, as "probably the most predictable thing of the season".
Hernandez flew to Sydney with the team on Wednesday but was sent home by Merrick on Thursday because his quad injury had not reacted well to the flight. Merrick said the injury was genuine and there was no cover-up.
The Phoenix made Hernandez unavailable for comment yesterday and Merrick did not know whether he would return against Sydney FC at Westpac Stadium tomorrow.
Contractual issues aside, Merrick believed Hernandez, who he won a title with at Melbourne Victory, was happy enough within the Phoenix team environment. "I think so.
"There are always issues in a team, there's always a team dynamic but I think so.
"One thing I would say is this club - and I've been at a few clubs - has been absolutely fantastic at looking after its players.
"And should there have been any issue bringing his family out or whatever, it wouldn't have been the issue of the club because I know how hard they work for all the players."
The Phoenix again played well in most departments against the Mariners but again lost their nerve horribly in front of goal.
Strikers Jeremy Brockie, who missed another sitter, and Stein Huysegems, who missed with a poor penalty, are both devoid of confidence, while the obvious solution, Paul Ifill, is unable to get through 90 minutes.
Merrick said he was still hoping to sign a striker or attacking midfielder in the January window and he had been given sufficient budget to do so if the right player became available.
He was not yet ready to cut his losses this season and start playing youngsters with an eye to the future.
"Until it's mathematically not possible we'll continue to aim to play finals football."
- The Dominion Post
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