Team Wellington's repeat national league triumph the product of a reinvention

Jose Figueira led Team Wellington to a national league title in his first year in charge at that level.
SHANE WENZLICK/PHOTOTEK.NZ

Jose Figueira led Team Wellington to a national league title in his first year in charge at that level.

At the end of the last national league season, Team Wellington found themselves on top.

But to get back there, they had to reinvent themselves.

After beating Auckland City 4-2 in extra time in that decider, the team from the capital lost three straight against them, before getting up 2-1 in this year's final at QBE Stadium on Sunday night.

Team Wellington won the national league for the second time on Sunday.
PHOTOSPORT

Team Wellington won the national league for the second time on Sunday.

In the wake of last year's triumph, they went and lost to City in the OFC Champions League final a month later, then lost the coach that got them there, Matt Calcott, who walked away after five seasons at the helm.

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To replace him, they brought in Jose Figueira, a former national youth team coach who was dumped as Anthony Hudson pursued alignment, and who was best known for his work with City's youth team and Central United, who he led to the northern league title last winter.

Jose Figueira (right) implemented a new system at Team Wellington which  gave his captain, Bill Robertson, a challenge.
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Jose Figueira (right) implemented a new system at Team Wellington which gave his captain, Bill Robertson, a challenge.

Upon arriving in the capital, he sought to mould Team Wellington to his liking - implementing a 3-5-2 system where the wingbacks looked more like wingers than backs, and where fluid, attacking football was the order of the day.

Joel Stevens is a striker by trade, but he was one of those wingbacks for most of the season, and he combined with Tom Jackson, Ben Harris, Andy Bevin and others to the tune of 51 goals in 18 round robin matches - a rate of 2.8 per game, which was the eighth best in the history of the league.

But combining attacking talents like that means making sacrifices elsewhere, and for large stretches during the season, it looked like Team Wellington might not be able to get the balance quite right - Figueira admitted after Sunday's final that it could be a huge risk trying to press forward in such numbers.

Team Wellington celebrate their opener on Sunday.
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Team Wellington celebrate their opener on Sunday.

It asked a lot of their three centre backs, a trio that usually consisted of Argentine Guillermo Moretti - who was suspended for the final - Justin Gulley, a nominal fullback, and Bill Robertson, a seasoned campaigner who was also the team's captain.

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Speaking after Sunday's final, where he got to lift the national league trophy for a second year in a row, Robertson said the new system had been a challenge, but a good one.

"It's been something new for me to learn, and it's been tough at times, and we've been tested, and we've conceded a few goals.

Ben Harris scored both of Team Wellington's goals in Sunday's final.
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Ben Harris scored both of Team Wellington's goals in Sunday's final.

"But we've scored a lot as well. We play an attacking brand of football and that's what's won us a title. It's been tough, but we've got there."

Team Wellington under Figueira didn't get off to the smoothest of starts, losing their first two games - 4-0 to City and 2-1 to the Wellington Phoenix reserves - but since then, they've lost just two more in 21 - to City in the first game back after the Christmas break, and Eastern Suburbs on a day where they failed to convert two penalty chances.

Otherwise, they've won 15 and drawn four while scoring 73 goals - a rate of 3.5 per game.

Team Wellington won their first national league title last year.
PHOTOTEK.NZ

Team Wellington won their first national league title last year.

They've also conceded 35 in that period, which shows their defensive end still needs work, but on Sunday, in a one-off final, it didn't let them down.

Figueira said City were supportive when he chose to make the move south, and that they remain the club he and Team Wellington will to try to emulate going forward.

​"They're still the benchmark with what they do on and off the field," he said.

"But with last year's win, and this year's back-to-back title, hopefully there's a changing of the tide. This club, Team Wellington, has some big aspirations, so tonight helps."

They won't have long to savour Sunday's win, however, as later this week, they're off to New Caledonia for the first leg of a home-and-away OFC Champions League semifinal against AS Magenta.

Win that - the second leg is in Wellington on Easter Sunday - and they could meet City once more in the final, provided the Aucklanders beat Tahiti's AS Tefana to get there.

They may be back on the mountaintop for now, but there's a higher peak ahead.

 - Stuff

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