Danny Hay: Pot-holes on Van Hattum's highway

DANNY HAY
Last updated 05:00 26/01/2014
Frank van Hattum
ALL OVER: New Zealand Football chairman Frank van Hattum has quit after almost six years in the job.

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OPINION: Frank Van Hattum's departure has torn me right down the middle.

On one side I'm thinking, rejoice, the chief architect of New Zealand Football's inaction is gone. The other side is wondering whether it will prove a case of better the devil you know.

For all his faults, van Hattum had at least played the game at a good level and knew what it was like to represent his country, having been a part of local folklore - the 1982 All Whites.

While it isn't a prerequisite to have competed a high level to be involved in administration of sport, I firmly believe it is important to know the game well enough to make educated, informed decisions around its development. Van Hattum at least had that.

He came into the job when NZ Football was struggling financially and the All Whites were only just starting a long journey toward credibility. Love or loathe him, van Hattum leaves the game in a better position than when he started.

Unfortunately, like Ricki Herbert, he overstayed his welcome.

The success of 2010 should have been the curtain call for both men. The game has been strangled of any growth since the World Cup four years ago - a chance unforgiveably missed and something the game was promised would not happen.

No doubt van Hattum is a decent man, but he was a ‘my way or the highway' exponent, exemplified by the appointment of four chief executives in five years, the worst turnover of any major sporting administration within the country.

The last three CEOs were run out of Dodge by a lack of support and being held back from getting on with the job.The chairman insisted on micro-managing every little detail.

For a man who had his eyes firmly set on football's top table, the lucrative and extremely powerful Fifa executive committee, this is all a very strange and sudden turnaround.

Perhaps the writing was on the wall with Sport New Zealand's impending review into the epic failings of the All Whites' last World Cup qualifying campaign Or is this simply a case of the captain jumping ship in the knowledge that NZ Football's business model is looking decidedly anaemic with the reserves used from a $10m World Cup windfall close to running out four years later.

I wrote of the winds of change needing to blow through NZ Football late last year after the All Whites' dreams of reaching Brazil this year were shattered.

With both Herbert and van Hattum gone, that has occurred to some extent.

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But is that enough?

What scares me most about the entire episode is the thought that the current board will continue clinging to threads of historical successes achieved outside of the boardroom.

Van Hattum's departure should open the door to a new and bright future, but I fear it will be simply be a case of promoting from within the current set-up.

Instead, it should be a time for questioning everything within the structure of the game and those who hold positions of power. Change is occurring, but as the Phoenix only too poignantly proved, you need to be prepared to make hard decisions and act in order for good things to occur.

Where would the Phoenix be now in terms of their development without Ernie Merrick's new ideas and expertise?

Perhaps it is unfair to tarnish the entire board with the same brush of idleness. Time will tell.

But at the very least, van Hattum's decline leaves one spot open for somebody with vision and a proven record of action to step in to the fold.

That position has got Gareth Morgan written all over it. Now wouldn't that chuck the cat among the pigeons?

- Danny Hay is a former All Whites captain

- Sunday Star Times

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