Owners right to shun ugly side of game

By ANENDRA SINGH sports editor

SOCCER IS heading for some intriguing times in New Zealand after the Wellington Phoenix franchise owners made their intentions abundantly clear last week.

While the pressure on A-League coach Ricki Herbert comes to the tune of the cash register tills at the turnstiles of the Cake Tin in Wellington, the fact remains playing "total football" is long overdue here.

With punters obviously fed up with the bunker mentality in the beautiful game, Welnix consortium member Gareth Morgan is effectively expressing similar sentiments disguised in business jargon.

"We want a style of football that the club is known for and we will essentially hire coaches that give us that style," Morgan told Radio Sport. "So in other words, the style of football will be determined by the club, not by the coach."

Okay, so the franchise isn't mincing words. It shouldn't because clubs always moan about a lack of funds but when a consortium coughs up then let the game of profits and losses begin.

Throwing in other red herrings, such as changing the formation from 4-4-2 to 4-3-3 or buying an overly expensive player, only detract from the fact that teams should be playing on the other half of the park.

When you are in a country that has a history of hanging its hat on physicality and defence modelled on the All Blacks' constitution then it's imperative to begin developing all the other aspects of the game that will one day make New Zealand a force in a truly global sport.

Putting up the shutters to weather the storm of oppositions boasting an elite strike force is commendable but, ultimately, ugly.

Yes, from a club's perspective, a draw is better than a loss and finishing mid-table or even making the play-offs is quite often enough to ensure coaches will keep their contracts for another spell.

Spectators, though, couldn't care less who is at the helm. They simply want more bang for their dollar.

Even the Hawke's Bay Magpies cannot be satisfied with simply making the ITM Cup play-offs - lifting the silverware is the bee's knees.

Like the Kinetic Electrical Hawke's Bay United soccer franchise, making the play-offs for the first time in the history of the ASB Premiership will be godsend but certainly not the point of ecstasy.

Never mind how insurmountable it may seem with O-League campaigners such as Auckland City and Waitakere United in the premiership, etching Bay United's name on the symbol of supremacy of the national summer league of soccer in impending seasons will, no doubt, be the ultimate.

It appears Phoenix will be the catalyst for such advancement.

Consequently, there's no points for guessing which passage of play will have portly blokes peeling off their shirts in the stands - Beefeaters thwarting attacks or strikers staging wave after wave of raids on the opposition goalmouth?

Of course, whether the iPhone generation will feel compelled enough to walk through the gates at Park Island, Napier, remains to be seen.

Morgan also emphasised to acquire a state of attractive soccer will take time but it was something the franchise expected coaches to persist with.

While Herbert tried to make the right noises on TV the other night, it wouldn't have taken a shrink to decipher his body language and response weren't all encompassing to change.

"Good on Gareth. Everyone wants to be positive around the club and we put 32,000 people in a semifinal at the stadium here [against Newcastle in 2010] so I kind of think the football hasn't been too bad," Herbert said.

Defensiveness is fighting talk.

Luring a sizeable crowd two years ago isn't the point at all.

That was then and this is now. It's a case of moving towards a pattern of game that will make kick-and-chase affairs redundant.

Last Sunday, Team Wellington coach Matt Calcott said it was imperative his losing team, who feed players to the Nix, are not playing "football for football sake".

The passing game - that is, to starve the opposition of possession - is the gospel but the challenge for coaches and selectors is to find finishers and equally adept defenders to thwart counter-attacks.

That will not only require academy nous but it'll also mean coaches will have to embrace the new religion or face extinction.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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