Soccer: Spend up Herbert tells NZF

By Michael Brown

Ricki Herbert has made his most passionate plea yet for significant investment in the All Whites' playing future.

New Zealand Football have talked proudly about their Whole of Football plan to "unite the game and drive it forward". Implemented before the World Cup, it puts an emphasis on grass roots football in the hope of delivering quality international players.

It's hardly revolutionary and most countries have something similar. Herbert supports the plan but has implored NZF to invest in the national side.

"The All Whites have to be a priority," he says. "This team stops a nation, it gets national support, it's done incredible things for the game. It's the best team that has ever been produced and achieved the best results the game has ever enjoyed, and may ever have.

"So it needs a programme that supports it so the public can feel it again. When the public feel it, they get behind it."

Last week the Herald on Sunday revealed NZF were hoping to stage one All Whites match in New Zealand this year and another overseas. As well, they hoped to play four-six matches in 2011 ahead of qualifying for the Confederations Cup, which will be a home-and-away playoff with the South Pacific Games winner rather than a tournament with the top-four nations in Oceania.

Not so long ago, there was a real fear the All Whites might not play for a couple of years after this World Cup. It's only three years ago since NZF were on the brink of bankruptcy so they don't want to squander their share of the US$8 million World Cup prize-money (the players will bank 40 per cent).

One source suggested NZF should chase a high-profile home game against a side like England, probably in Wellington in the Fifa window in October, in return for pledging support for England's 2018 or 2022 World Cup bids. This would be a suitable way to celebrate the All Whites' success.

It's a game that would at least be cost-neutral, because of England's pulling power, but Herbert said NZF can't be shy about spending money.

"Four years ago we might have had $1 to dream about winning $10," he says. "We don't have $1 any more. We have $2. So let's invest more. We have to. You can't just say we're going to skimp on everything.

"The planning for the future is now incredibly important. You can't say that this team now needs to back off for the next two years and plan for [the 2014 World Cup in] Brazil. I understand you have to cut your cloth but the team needs a programme and that needs to happen this year, next year and the following two years.

"It's about the future development of players. Who's going to retire? Where are the weaknesses left in the squad? "The Whole of Football plan has no bearing on the next four years. It's an integral part of looking after the game for the future, and I support that 100 per cent, but you are not going to see the results of that until 2018 or 2022. That shouldn't be seen as something revolutionary. That should be part of your infrastructure anyway. It needs to be carefully looked at because that's a production line for top talent.

"I am confident we can qualify for Brazil in 2014 but only if the preparation is right. That's something the national body need to invest in."

Midfielder Leo Bertos said the corporate world had a part to play: "This has definitely woken up the country. I know the public is behind us. I just hope the corporate world will be, too, and we get the sponsorship we need to do things. I hope people can put their wallets on the line here. We need some really good funding because that's what it takes to get to the next level."

There are doubts about the international futures of Ryan Nelsen (32), Simon Elliott (36), Ivan Vicelich (33) and Mark Paston (33) but the remainder of the squad is expected to still be around in four years' time.

Those four were critical to the All Whites' success in South Africa, especially Nelsen, and it would be a shame to lose them. But there is enough quality and talent coming through for fans to be optimistic qualification for the World Cup isn't a once-in-28-years phenomenon.

"When you look at the team, there's probably 85 per cent who can definitely go on to be part of 2014 and that programme," Herbert says.

- NZ Herald

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