Off the long run: In defence of the Phoenix offense
Off the long run
Three months is a long time in football, enough time it seems for disgruntled Phoenix owner Gareth Morgan to decide that he has seen enough, and that things need to change at his football club.
Since Morgan came out in a press conference and declared himself unhappy with the unattractive style of play that has been on offer this season, every man and his dog has had a word to say about how the Phoenix could change things for the better, and whether or not Ricki Herbert is the right man for the job.
It is understandable that Morgan would want to see his team turn on the style for the sake of bringing in the cash to keep the club moving forward, but a look back at the history and some statistics of Herbert's Phoenix tenure tells us that there is more to it than simply implementing "total football".
In his interview with Tony Veitch in December, Morgan said that the Phoenix style had been a defensive one and that changes were needed to make Phoenix home games more attractive to fans to get the gate above that magic 10,000 number needed to break even. Firstly, it must be pointed out that while away from home Herbert's side have had the tendency to sit back, whether by strategy or inferiority, at home the Phoenix have historically played extremely entertaining counter attacking football. Who can forget the 2-1 over Melbourne Victory in 2008, when Smeltz scored one of the Phoenix's greatest goals on the break to win it? Or the unbeaten home streak from 2008-2010 at Westpac Stadium where each A-League team was taken apart at least once in the longest home unbeaten streak in A-League history, including a 6-0 rout of the then table topping Gold Coast in late 2009?
The Phoenix simply do not have the personnel to play total football. Implementing that style would take an enormous overhaul of the playing staff, and my guess is that the WelNix consortium is not willing to begin investing in players until the club beings generating its own revenue. But the belief that the Phoenix play, and always have played, unattractive football at home is a fallacy. The Phoenix are at their best allowing a team to come on to them and turning the ball over with their tenacious midfield combination before releasing someone like Ifil to burst downfield to give a fullback twisted blood and crafting a chance for himself or someone else. Very few teams are able to cope with the Phoenix when the lights come on and Yellow Fever is in full voice, as we saw against the Heart last week.
While football facts are fairly malleable and always to be taken with a pinch of salt, there are some statistics from the Phoenix's time in the A-League which should be brought to the attention of Gareth Morgan, which are pertinent to any future plans for the club. Since their introduction in to the A-League, the Phoenix have scored 128 goals in 73 home matches, at a rate of 1.75 goals per game. Compare this ratio to that of the two most successful clubs in the A-League, Melbourne and Brisbane: Melbourne Victory have a ratio of 1.61 goals per home game, and Brisbane just 1.56. While statistics are not the be all and end all in football, these statistics do provide depth to the argument that the Phoenix are an entertaining team to watch at the Westpac Stadium.
Furthermore, there is no evidence to suggest that entertaining football equals more bums on seats. The aforementioned 6-0 victory over the Gold Coast brought in just 6,571 punters. You would assume that a result like that would make people sit up and take notice, but the following home game, a 3-0 win over perennial Westpac whipping boys the Jets, saw just 4,115 creep in to the stadium. Traditionally Phoenix home crowds have been at their highest only in the most important games, where play off positions are on the line or the play offs themselves have come to town.
Last year a criticism of the Phoenix was that they were underachieving with their crowds and yet, it emerged that per capita we had the third highest average in the league, and so far this season we are on track for the same position in the per capita table. Wellington is operating with the smallest potential fan base in the league, and most of our population is not interested in paying money week in week out to watch A-League football. It's the same for casual football fans the world over.
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