'Maxed out' team salary cap with no marquee names suggests some players near $200k.
With a guaranteed minimum salary of $60,000 and an overall salary cap of $3.08 million, the Wellington Phoenix players are expected to earn their keep but loyal fans are still waiting to see those dollars translated into real success where it counts - on the field at the business end of the season.
With marquee player signings falling outside the cap much more money is being poured into some club's playing rosters. Sydney FC, for example, signed Italian star Alessandro del Piero to a two-year, A$4 million ($5 million) deal.
They have been joined in the marquee player scramble this season by Newcastle Jets, who have Emile Heskey (reportedly at A$700,000 a year), and newcomers Western Sydney, who have attracted Japan's Shinji Ono after failing to lure former Germany captain Michael Ballack.
Marco Flores, who has returned from China to join Melbourne Victory will not have come cheap either.
Other marquee players, including Socceroos Harry Kewell and Brett Emerton have made a mark but without living up to the hype surrounding their signings.
No one has ever suggested the A-League would be easy and, at times, the Phoenix have punched above their weight - and without marquee signings - in reaching the post season three times.
Coach Ricki Herbert confirmed the Phoenix have "maxed out" the salary cap but without any marquee signings, which suggests some of his players could be on close to $200,000.
In failing to reach the grand final they have only rarely rated as a serious contender.
But Herbert points to their record as being the only club to have reached the post-season rounds in each of the last three seasons.
There have been a number of hurdles, including the fall from grace of inaugural owner Terry Serepisos and calls by now-suspended Asian Confederation president Mohamed bin Hammam to throw the Phoenix out of the league.
The Phoenix have never been flavour of the season across the Tasman, having been repeatedly ignored in player, young player, goalkeeper, manager, foreign player and goal of the year polls. Their only recognition was three seasons ago when Shane Smeltz claimed the golden boot as leading goalscorer.
A recent poll on the league's website rated the Phoenix outside the top half with two-time winners Sydney FC, Melbourne Victory and Brisbane Roar (defending champions) filling the top three spots ahead of Newcastle Jets (the only other grand final winner) and last season's beaten finalist Perth Glory.
Interestingly, the clubs rated as favourites all have new coaches.
Ian Crook joined Sydney FC after Vitezslav Lavicka was released and the club failed to sign Graham Arnold who opted to remain at Central Coast Mariners.
Ange Postecoglou has switched from Brisbane Roar to become the Victory's fourth coach in a year after Ernie Merrick, twice the league's coach of the year and now national coach in Hong Kong, was sensationally sacked. Rado Vidosic, Postecoglou's former assistant, has been elevated at the Roar.
Elsewhere, John Kosmina has held his job after a season to forget at Adelaide United, Western Sydney have Tony Popovic as their inaugural coach after he was released from his assistant coach role at Crystal Palace, Gary van Egmond and Arnold are retained at Newcastle and Central Coast, John Aloisi replaces John van 't Schip at Melbourne Heart and Ian Ferguson has another term at Perth Glory.
Englishman Crook, Herbert and Scot Ferguson are the only non-Australian coaches in the league while Brazilian Fred (Melbourne Heart) and Englishman Terry Flynn (Sydney FC) are the only non-Australian captains on this year's roster although John Hutchinson, at Central Coast, is now, like the Phoenix's Manny Muscat, playing internationally for Malta. With Jeremy Brockie and Glen Moss now with the Phoenix, Michael McGlinchey (Central Coast), Shane Smeltz (Perth) and Marco Rojas (Melbourne Victory) are the only New Zealanders with clubs across the Tasman.
Herbert has All Whites Mark Paston, Moss, Tony Lochhead, Leo Bertos, Michael Boxall, Ben Sigmund and Brockie along with Olympian Cameron Lindsay in his 22-strong Phoenix squad.
In addition to Moss, Brockie and Boxall, Herbert has signed Belgium striker Stein Huysegems, Ricardo Clarke (on loan) and Solomon Islands star Benjamin Totori along with youth academy players Louis Fenton and Tyler Boyd who, with Lindsay, are the club's mandatory three youth players.
Local attention is squarely on tomorrow's game at Westpac Stadium where, somewhat surprisingly, the Phoenix are warmly favoured by the odds-makers to beat Sydney FC.
Obviously the four-from-four record over the Blues last season and the Phoenix's strong home form over the years are seen as significant factors and that del Piero might need more time to settle into an environment far removed from his glamour days with Juventus in the Serie A.
Phoenix bosses could not have scripted it better with a huge crowd ready to herald the season in style.
Herbert stretched by A-League, Oceania games
Ricki HerbertIt's a headache Ricki Herbert could do without but he'll wait until the Phoenix's A-League opener against Sydney FC tomorrow night is out of the way before addressing it.
Wearing his All Whites coach hat, Herbert faces a dilemma in having to prepare the national side for the next round of Oceania home and away World Cup qualifiers against Tahiti.
"I'll worry about that on Monday," said Herbert. "We'll get through this one [against Sydney] before looking at the World Cup qualifiers."
A-League bosses rejected a request for dispensation from the Phoenix even though the matches, in Papeete on October 13 and in Christchurch 72 hours later, are being played in a Fifa window which means clubs are obliged to release players or stand them down.
The English Premier League, along with most other club competitions worldwide, have that weekend off.
The Phoenix are down to play Melbourne Heart away on Sunday week, so Herbert's resources will be well stretched.
He hinted yesterday he would not hold back in naming his All Whites squad, which could mean seven of his Phoenix players will be called to international duty for New Zealand as well as his Solomon Islands striker Benjamin Totori, who has home-and-away matches with New Caledonia.
With goalkeepers Mark Paston and Glen Moss in both camps, Herbert will have to bring another goalkeeper (or two) in for the trip to Melbourne. The call for replacements might not end there as he seeks to put out a competitive side for the first road trip of the new season.
"At the end of the day we just have to get on with it," said Herbert. "While it's far from ideal there's nothing we can do about it. I didn't raise the issue when I was in Sydney for the A-League launch on Tuesday."
What's more galling is that only two Australian-based players, Melbourne Victory's Mark Milligan and Archie Thompson, have been named in the Socceroos squad for their October 16 tie with Iraq in Doha, leaving all other Australian teams at full strength for round-two matches.
In and outs
Wellington Phoenix player movements
* In Ricardo Clarke (loan, Sporting San Miguelito, Panama), Stein Huysegems (Belgium), Louis Fenton (Youth), Michael Boxall (Vancouver Whitecaps), Jeremy Brockie (Newcastle Jets), Glen Moss (Gold Coast United), Benjamin Totori (Solomon Islands), Tyler Boyd (youth).
* Out Chris Greenacre (retired), Nick Ward (Perth Glory), Daniel (released), Tony Warner (released), Tim Brown (retired).
Phoenix 2012-13 squad
* Goalkeepers: Mark Paston, Glen Moss.
* Defenders: Tony Lochhead, Michael Boxall, Leo Bertos, Ben Sigmund, Andrew Durante (captain).
* Midfielders: Manny Muscat, Jeremy Brockie, Cameron Lindsay, Vince Lia, Lucas Pantelis, Alex Smith, Louis Fenton, Dani Sanchez, Jimmy Downey.
* Strikers: Paul Ifill, Benjamin Totori, Stein Huysegems, Tyler Boyd, Mirjan Pavlovic, Ricardo Clark (on loan).