Anendra Singh: Herbert lacks beautiful mind

By Anendra Singh

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He was an odd-looking fellow for a Roman Catholic brother.

Stringy bean like, the bespectacled one cultivated a curly mop of hair rolling down to his shoulders at the then Marist Brothers Primary School that I attended in the late 1970s.

In his grey-and-white habit, he would use a toy clipper (quite often in the shape of a ladybird) to get the attention of the class.

His after-school job also included banking the school's money and one day, well after I had graduated to high school, I discovered he had abandoned the brotherhood to elope with some female bank teller.

It's that sort of spontaneity that captured my interest.

He was the man who taught me how to play chess and soccer in the late 1970s.

He had a clinical mind, never taking his eyes off the books he was marking after school as he wrote down chess move after moves on a piece of paper while several of us chosen ones reciprocated with counter moves on the chequered boards.

He drilled into our first XI soccer team the importance of playing in triangles, perfecting trapping the ball and pushing passes out wide to speedy wingers to spread the opposition defence in a bid to score goals.

At the end of each game, the players were rated out of 10 and a chart placed on the school notice board for everyone to peruse.

We never lost a game that season. We won all games bar a 1-1 draw.

I have never forgotten those basic principles and imparted those skills to children and women's teams I've coached in Hawke's Bay amid the frustration of numerous false prophets reinforcing kick-and-chase tactics of yesteryear.

The question is: "Did Ricki Herbert ever have such an incisive mind or charisma?"

The answer is an emphatic no but it took almost six seasons for the Wellington Phoenix franchise to act on it.

It scarcely matters if franchise co-owner Gareth Morgan knows the intricacies of the beautiful game. What matters most is he knows what he and the fans want to see.

Herbert eventually fell on his sword but, unfortunately, he remains on saline solution in the recovery room as franchise technical adviser.

Even worse, he remains All Whites coach almost on a wave of sentimentalism.

It makes no sense and his situation is symptomatic of everything that's wrong with New Zealand soccer.

It seems unfair to kick a man in the guts when he's down but the reality remains he was well past his use-by date even if he achieved mayoralty status after the 2010 World Cup.

Herbert is, in every sense of the word, a defender who championed a bunker mentality philosophy that yielded a rash of stalemates even at the 2010 World Cup.

The problem is the Phoenix can't defend now to save themselves in the A-League, which is fast evolving into a competition that rewards flair and structure.

It seemed obvious to me in Palmerston North two winters ago that Herbert, with Uefa Pro licence backing, had no intentions of embracing the Barcelona-type game.

To be fair to the man, it's become painfully obvious he simply doesn't know how to, any more than 95 per cent of coaches in this country. If he wasn't shoved, his conscious should have been pushing him towards resignation some time ago.

Coaches here tend to be in a survival mode. Make the playoffs or finish mid-table and chances are the boards will keep you on the payroll.

In a nutshell, the country was caught up in emulating the success of the 1982 World Cup heroes, who included Herbert the player.

In his 2009 biography, Ricki Herbert: A New Fire, the man says: "People come in and force you to play in a certain way.

"That lasts two years, then goes out the window when someone else replaces them."

Well, Herbert, you did it for six seasons. Five wins from 23 outings in one A-League season doesn't do it and neither does making one playoff in an entire career.

The reality is Nix and All White fans won't wake up to a new dawn anytime soon.

Yellow Fever will have to brace themselves for something in the proportion of the Black Plague.

Phoenix will have to dip into the cradle of soccer civilisation to nurture seedlings of "total football".

Simply buying imports of the Phil Ifill species and expecting them to yield goals without breaking down will not do it.

The board will have to cast its net wide for soccer-savvy coaches because local for the sake of it will leave the code in the doldrums.

Like crayfish pots, under-sized catches will have to be biffed back into the sea.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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