A-League playoffs are the real hunger games

13:10, Mar 26 2012

Attitude is everything.

That applies especially to the Wellington Phoenix as they head into the A League playoffs.

You often hear of a team making a final and saying: "Whatever happens now is a bonus. We've achieved what we wanted." With the hunger for victory already satisfied, that team is unlikely to have the desire necessary to win the final.

If the Phoenix have been listening to their coach on the news, they could fall into the same trap. Ricki Herbert has made much of not only "making the playoffs", but doing it "three years in a row". If he had a young team in his charge, that could lead them to believe that reaching the playoffs is a success – to think "whatever happens now, it's been a good year" – and take their foot off the gas.

Fortunately, the Phoenix have within their ranks seasoned professionals with loftier goals, and for them, making the playoffs is no more a success than making the cut is for Rory McIlroy.

Chris Greenacre, Paul Ifill and Andrew Durante, who's won the A League with Newcastle Jets, will be thinking "the playoffs? So what? You don't get the cup for making the playoffs".

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The Phoenix's home match today with Central Coast will go some way to revealing their mindset. Are they happy to settle for fourth place and home advantage in the first playoff match? Or are they desperate to finish third, which dramatically improves their chances of advancing further by giving them the second playoff match at home as well?

Just as importantly, a victory over the Mariners would do wonders for their morale. The Phoenix were given the runaround by both the Mariners and the Roar recently, which hinted at a significant gap between the top two and the rest. Should the Phoenix get through to the preliminary final against the losers of the Mariners and the Roar for a place in the grand final, then a win today would do much to elevate their attitude from one of hope, to belief.

THE SAD sight of Fabrice Muamba struggling for his life in the Spurs v Bolton game has given the England FA a wakeup call.

According to Manchester City's Italian manager Roberto Mancini, the fitness testing is far better in Italy than England, which is hardly a surprise, because the Italians have always taken the game more seriously.

So we can expect to hear soon that England will insist that every professional player will have to undergo thorough medical testing.

But having discovered that a player has a got a heart abnormality, or other problem, what's the FA going to do? Ban him from playing? The guy needs to make a living. He'll go and play somewhere else.

If Fifa bans him from playing professional football anywhere, he'll probably continue to play in amateur football. And if Fifa bans him from playing at any level, it will have to test every overweight club hacker on the planet to make sure they're fit enough to play. Which, even if it were possible, would reduce the number of Sunday league, pub league and over-30 league players by millions.

Will players have to show the ref their medical certificate before they take the field?

And what about goalkeepers? Will they be treated the same as outfielders, even though they run only a fraction of the distance in a game? How about a fullback, who might run only 7km, compared to the 12km of a midfielder? Could a player receive a permit to play in one position, but not another?

No. Muamba and every other pro have a right to work, same as any builder, accountant, engineer and hairstylist who have a time bomb inside them.

And if they're going to play, they're safer in one of the top leagues, where there are trained medical people with all the best equipment on hand if something goes wrong.

Billy Harris is a former All White.

Sunday Star Times