Fred de Jong brushes off Ernie Merrick's barbs

SAM WORTHINGTON
Last updated 05:00 11/04/2014
Fred de Jong
Photosport
BIG RESPOSIBILITY: New Zealand Football high performance director Fred de Jong.

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Fred de Jong will not commentate on the Wellington Phoenix tomorrow although he says that is not because of criticism from coach Ernie Merrick.

Merrick accused de Jong, New Zealand Football's high performance director, of having a conflict of interest through his commentary work for Sky, and was disappointed that he criticised the Phoenix's All Whites during last month's 1-0 loss to Adelaide United at Westpac Stadium.

De Jong wasn't interested in getting into a war of words with Merrick and said he was "trying to work a lot closer with the Phoenix."

He would not call tomorrow's season ending game against Melbourne Victory, saying it "wasn't scheduled" and he was "just too busy."

He was unsure whether he would commentate in the next A-League season.

"I'll sort that out with the Phoenix."

Phoenix captain and All Whites defender Andrew Durante described de Jong's two roles as a "tricky situation."

"Obviously he's the face of New Zealand Football in a sense and I guess there is a conflict of interest," Durante said.

"I don't know who makes the decision, whether he stays on or not, but for me he's a commentator when he commentates and whatever he says doesn't really affect me.

"I don't really let commentary affect me too much otherwise I probably wouldn't be playing the game."

De Jong said his focus was on helping prepare the Football Ferns for their game against Japan in Osaka on May 8 and the All Whites for their clash with South Africa in Auckland on May 30.

De Jong defended the decision to schedule an All Whites game outside a Fifa window and in most players' off-seasons. He called senior players for input before signing off on the game and acknowledged that the timing wasn't perfect.

"One of the complaints that came out of the last cycle was that we hadn't played enough games. So we had the Tokyo game [against Japan last month] and then this game came up.

"It's not perfect timing but it's a good opportunity and it's good quality opposition. The South Africa game was part of those discussions with the planning group and their views got put in the wider context of playing the game. In the end we decided to take the game."

Former All Whites captain Tommy Smith, who missed the Japan match, has already declared himself an unlikely starter next month.

But de Jong said no-one was definitely unavailable at this stage and he was hopeful of fielding a strong squad.

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"Hopefully they're up for the game and will make every effort to come back."

With a review of last year's failed World Cup campaign due for completion at the end of the month, de Jong was unsure whether he would be part of the selection panel to appoint the next All Whites coach.

"We're working through that at the moment. The review will go to [chief executive] Andy [Martin] and then get processed from there through the board. We'll wait for the findings of the review, just in case there's something there that should be taken into consideration."

- The Dominion Post

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