Chris Rattue at the World Cup
Herald writer Chris Rattue blogs from the Fifa World Cup

Chris Rattue: Door to Herbert's future may shut out All Whites

By Chris Rattue

There has been a handshake agreement offering hope, with inevitable suggestions that Ricki Herbert's success at the World Cup will work against him remaining as the national coach.

If overseas offers come in, as they should, and probably already have, then Herbert will have a rich and fascinating future that takes him offshore to employers, and demanding jobs, that will not allow him to also coach the All Whites.

There is also speculation about captain Ryan Nelsen's international future. The Blackburn Rovers captain, aged 32, was evasive on his future after the match against Paraguay, and wants time to reflect. Sources within the team feel Nelsen might believe this was his final major campaign.

In the afterglow of the All Whites' stunning World Cup performance, the initial signs are that Herbert will continue as the national coach for now. He is the man of the hour, the one-time baby of the great 1982 team who has succeeded with Mission Impossible in South Africa.

There were tears on the field and in the dressing room after the goalless draw with Paraguay in Polokwane, where the brave, brilliantly organised All Whites exited the World Cup yesterday morning.

Herbert, who left for a family holiday in Hong Kong last night, also made an emotional speech to his staff.

Having come so close to making the last 16, against all expectations perhaps apart from their own, missing out was a bitter disappointment although Herbert said pride would take over the players' thinking the next day.

In the cold light of day, the All Whites lacked the necessary attack to warrant any claims that they were unlucky and deserved better. Even the Paraguay striker Roque Santa Cruz noted New Zealand's overly defensive mode.

The All Whites did what they could, but couldn't break the shackles put on them by a team that was ferocious in winning the ball back and clever at protecting it, although Paraguay's long-ball game was ill-directed.

The All Whites had just three shots on goal throughout the tournament, scoring with two. They managed just four wayward strikes against Paraguay, who had 17 shots, with five on the mark. Paraguay had 57 per cent possession. Those are telling statistics.

Nothing could take away the magnitude of the All Whites' achievement though.

They have redefined New Zealand soccer, given it not just hope but a platform from which to soar.

The task will still be difficult for a sport with no strong domestic league to hang its coat on, which is also isolated from the soccer strongholds.

But this team has laid down a blueprint of players from professional leagues around the world coming together in a well-run side, with strong leadership.

It is now up to the new brigade, Tommy Smith, Winston Reid and company, to carry on and build a tradition a-la the underdog teams such as the Queensland league side.

The trick to raising the performance higher will be to get more players into better leagues - the Ryan Nelsen route if you like. The Denmark-based Reid could help lead the way.

Anyone suggesting before the World Cup started that New Zealand would be undefeated, finish higher than World Cup holders Italy, and become brief if limited darlings of the whole shebang, would have been carted off by the men in white coats. This was a truly stunning stanza for New Zealand sport, one that overwhelmed the public's imagination.

Herbert, who also had a fine season with the Phoenix in the A-league and has a year left on his club contract, will get overseas offers, and he is bound to take one eventually.

This is the natural order of things, just as players take the biggest and best offers. A new All Whites coach of the highest order might even further develop the side.

But Herbert has found a winning recipe, and a new cook isn't needed to risk spoiling the broth just yet. The country will hope that Herbert stays, although whether he remains for the next World Cup might be the big question.

As the All Whites made their way out of the Peter Mokaba Stadium, the New Zealand Football chairman Frank van Hattum said a handshake deal should keep Herbert on board.

Herbert is employed by the Phoenix, who loan him to NZF, a deal that now expires.

Van Hattum said: "Ricki has expressed a great desire to continue coaching this team. He is also a passionate New Zealander and we respect that and will facilitate that.

"We have a handshake agreement that if he wishes to pursue a club or continue coaching at the Phoenix, and continue with the All Whites, then subject to negotiation he's got that role."

Herbert emphasised he was indebted to the Phoenix, and would always discuss matters first with the owner, Terry Serepisos.

There is also the matter of money - he gets around $50,000 for national duties, a pittance next to his achievements in South Africa.

Herbert was a little cryptic, referring to "the next coach" having to find new blood, but said the next coach might be himself.

Herbert said: "I've said to Frank it's been a wonderful six years, and it could also be the start of something ... but could we ever do better at the World Cup I don't know. You'd have to be quite brave to try and do better than that, but if we can ...

"If I can be part of it, I don't have any reason not to be part of it. Frank has been excellent. I only have a contract with the club but Frank has agreed to meet about that."

When asked if he wanted to continue, Herbert said: "Anything could come out of left field which means you can't do it but yeah. But if a club says I can't, then I have to make a decision.

"Terry has been my biggest supporter. If anything is going to change, he will be the first person I will talk to. But I'm in a positive dialogue with the chairman."

Meanwhile van Hattum said NZF was working hard to build on the success but also outlined the limitations of the Fifa international windows, and problems associated with finding opponents, especially ones able to play in New Zealand. New Zealand's enhanced ranking post-World Cup will help.

Van Hattum said there was disappointment at not making the last 16, but added: "We are absolutely proud as all New Zealand should be.

"They dared to believe and delivered, away from the rhetoric. These were three great results and coming up just short just added to the drama."

- NZ Herald

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