Sam Malcolmson: New belief makes Phoenix rise again

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Wellington Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Wellington Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The Wellington Phoenix's clash against Adelaide United at Eden Park tonight is one of the few local soccer matches I've looked forward to with genuine excitement in recent times.

Despite their lowly position on the A-league table, this is a completely different Phoenix outfit compared to previous seasons, as one defeat in their last six games testifies.

A 'don't lose' mentality has been replaced by a confident 'go forward' attitude which is creating all sorts of problems for opponents.

Apart from Costa Ricans Carlos Hernandez and Kenny Cunningham and find of the season Albert Riera, this is virtually the wooden spoon squad from last year.

With a bit of luck the Phoenix could be in the top four - currently they are the best footballing team in the league along with Brisbane.

Woeful initial form and attitudes from some senior players, plus shocking misses, are to blame for their lowly position. New coach Ernie Merrick has changed the mindset and restored confidence. Players are no longer afraid of being innovative.

What thrills me most is the breakthrough by young New Zealand players grabbing their chances. The now-injured Louis Fenton was outstanding, and Tyler Boyd, Jason Hicks and Matthew Ridenton to name a few are destined to be our future All Whites. It shows that dedicated youngsters can make it as professionals in New Zealand.

So I urge parents to take their soccer crazy kids - boys and girls - to tonight's game and cheer these young stars of tomorrow.

Aucklanders should flock to Eden Park - we have an exciting team to support, full of All Whites and Kiwi youngsters playing a brand that epitomises the 'beautiful game' .

Further to that, New Zealand needs a second A-league team and I'm confident this city of 1.5 million people would find the support to get behind a team. The Wellington Phoenix could offer advice on how to overcome obstacles and produce a successful organisation, to support an Auckland application.

I was encouraged by Phoenix co-owner Gareth Morgan's call for an Auckland-based team in the A-league and his willingness to invest in it. Surely there must be other well-heeled soccer fanatics in the commercial world prepared to pick up the cudgels despite two failed A-league attempts in Auckland.

Irrespective of recent events, let's not forget the parts former coach Ricki Herbert and departing national chairman Frank van Hattum played in establishing an A-league team in Wellington.

And a final thought - as the All Whites are virtually in mothballs for the next two years why not make Merrick the interim coach - he has most of the All Whites at his disposal already. Neil Emblen would be his assistant and he could also help Darren Bazeley prepare the under-20s for their World Cup in New Zealand next year.

The priority should be getting the new national administration in order rather than rushing an All Whites coaching appointment.

- NZ Herald

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