Michael Brown: Herbert steps out of the fire

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Ricki Herbert had been the Phoenix head coach since 2007. Photo / Getty Images
Ricki Herbert had been the Phoenix head coach since 2007. Photo / Getty Images

It's appropriate Ricki Herbert's 2009 book was titled A New Fire because he has been trying to get the blaze under control at the Wellington Phoenix since being appointed coach in 2007.

This morning it got the better of him and he tendered his resignation before the board took more drastic action. It came seemingly out of the blue but, in truth, had been building for some time.

A football club, any football club, can't sustain such a poor run of results without something changing. They have won only five of 22 games this season - only one in 2013 - and have also been outscored 23-7 over the last nine matches.

Incredibly, they are still a chance of making the playoffs with five games remaining but that's more a reflection of a generous playoffs system that sees six of 10 teams progress than anything else.

Wellington are the only club to reach the playoffs in each of the last three years but, apart from 2010 when they reached the preliminary final, have not really threatened.

That was supposed to change this year.

Herbert has now accepted a role as technical advisor to the board advising them on football matters but what this really means is unclear. Is he a consultant? Will be work with the academy? Will he have a say in recruitment? And his presence would surely be uncomfortable for the next coach.

Chris Greenacre will take over for the remainder of the season starting with tomorrow night's visit of Newcastle but his inexperience makes him an unlikely option to take over fulltime. There are some candidates with A-League experience, including John Kosmina, Ian Ferguson and Miron Bleiberg, but there will also be a number of applicants from further afield.

The Phoenix position would be an attractive one. It's understood to command a salary well in excess of $250,000 plus bonuses, the A-League has a generous playoffs system and no relegation and also has relatively short season.

There aren't any realistic options in New Zealand, although Olympics coach and All Whites assistant Neil Emblen and Auckland City coach Ramon Tribulietx will surely put their hands up and former All Whites Gavin Wilkinson, Simon Elliott and Danny Hay might be tempted to apply.

Herbert will continue to coach the All Whites and a win over New Caledonia in Dunedin on March 22 will see them move through to November's playoff against the fourth-placed side from North and Central America for a spot at next year's World Cup.

Many have said Herbert has spread his time too thinly between club and country to the detriment of both - he was also advisor to the Olympic side - and that he has held too much power in New Zealand football.

That has now been watered down and it's not a bad thing. He took the Phoenix as far as he could but it's clear the players were not responding this season and confidence is shot as results continued to elude them and everyone grappled with the concept of playing more attractive football.

But Herbert also had to endure some extremely difficult times, not least of all when former owner Terry Serepisos battled bankruptcy and struggled to pay players and coaching staff including Herbert. He did a good job to keep the team together when it could have all gone horribly wrong.

Herbert is one of the most divisive individuals in New Zealand football and has always had his critics but they have grown in recent weeks and months. He faced his first serious challenge to his All Whites job after last year's failed Oceania Nations Cup campaign in Honiara and has been fending off criticism since.

He said in a statement his resignation would allow him to focus more on the All Whites in an important year and that it was now time for "someone else to take a fresh look at things at the club''.

With nearly half the playing squad off contract at the end of the season, there will be a number of nervous players who will wonder if they have a future at the club.

Phoenix captain Andrew Durante is locked in but he found out about Herbert's resignation on radio this morning. It seems the fire doesn't always spread to where it should.

- APNZ

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