Football: Clubs' pact helps ease player crisis

By Terry Maddaford

Ben Sigmund is one of several Phoenix players away on international duty. Photo / Richard Robinson
Ben Sigmund is one of several Phoenix players away on international duty. Photo / Richard Robinson

A common sense understanding by ASB Premiership clubs has cleared the way for players in the Wellington Phoenix Academy to play for the club in Sunday's away A-League clash with Melbourne Heart and, at the same time, expose the crazy situation which the Phoenix have found themselves in.

During 2007-10, when the Socceroos were coached by Pim Verbeek, Football Federation Australia decided there would be no windows for internationals in drawing up their A-League schedule. This was on the understanding Verbeek was unlikely to select any home-based Australians in his national side.

While this flew in the face of major leagues around the world, the A-League clubs were told to "get on with it".

The fact that the Phoenix could be hardest hit was not taken into consideration by the Australians, some of whom were anti the Phoenix anyway.

The matter has now come to a head with All Whites and Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert selecting goalkeepers Mark Paston and Glen Moss, defenders Leo Bertos, Ben Sigmund and Tony Lochhead and striker/midfielder Jeremy Brockie in the national side for home and away matches with Tahiti.

The club has also lost striker Benjamin Totori to the Solomon Islands for their matches with New Caledonia.

With no dispensation clause, Herbert had no option but to look elsewhere, including players in the club's academy when finalising his squad for Sunday's game.

Herein lies a problem.

Any player elevated from the academy or any other "amateur" club would normally face a 30-day stand-down on returning from a professional club. With the Phoenix academy players also aligned with Team Wellington, those players would therefore miss that club's opening two games of the new ASB Premiership season.

New Zealand Football has the power to waive the stand-down but would only do so with the agreement from all clubs.

Team Wellington's first games are away to Waitakere United and home to Canterbury United - clashes seen as key to their season.

Initially Waitakere chairman Peter Bult voiced his concerns at the change, pointing to his club's Sean Lovemore and Auckland City's Ivan Vicelich as two players who had been stood down last season after brief flirts with professional football but yesterday agreed to the move.

Lovemore was called in to the Phoenix, played 20 minutes and was stood down for the rest of the season, missing the semifinals and ASB Premiership grand final.

"We told them [NZF] we weren't happy and made a point that they can't break rules for one party but not another," said Bult. "But in the end, and in the interest of the game as a whole we had another look at it.

"While we still don't agree with what is happening, we won't stand in the players' way."

Given the number of players missing, at least two, and up to four, academy players seem set to travel to Melbourne.

Academy goalkeeper Scott Basalaj will start in goal with Auckland City's Jacob Spoonley on the bench. Defender Luke Rowe will probably step in at left back (in place of Lochhead) with All Whites central defender Michael Boxall (left out of the squad for the Tahiti games) and Cameron Lindsay (also a Phoenix squad member) filling the spots left vacant by Sigmund and Bertos.

Tom Biss and Hamish Watson, from the academy, are also likely to be involved as the Phoenix seek replacements further forward for Brockie and Totori.

With four players, Vince Lia, Dani Sanchez, Mirjan Pavlovic and Lucas Pantelis, still sidelined by injury, the stocks are a little thin but in Louis Fenton they have a youngster ready to shoulder even more attacking responsibility.

Phoenix general manager David Dome expressed his disappointment at the situation but said "we are just getting on with it".

With hints there could be changes next season, Dome waits with bated breath.

"We are thankful for the school of excellence we have at the club," said Dome. "This has highlighted the problem and already there has been a suggestion it will be looked at again."

- NZ Herald

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