Chris Rattue 's Opinion

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue: Herbert's job should be hovering just above ashes

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Ricki Herbert has had long enough to make this a regular title chasing team. Photo / Getty Images
Ricki Herbert has had long enough to make this a regular title chasing team. Photo / Getty Images

The A-League works brilliantly-to-quite-well in some places, not so in others. Unfortunately, the Wellington Phoenix have plummeted into the latter category.

To cut to the chase, the time is right to replace coach Ricki Herbert.

This may not be a panacea, but it is still essential if the Yellow Fever are to have something worth taking their shirts off for apart from flashes of the now injured Paul Ifill's brilliance. New Zealand soccer also needs to at least open itself up to new horizons.

We all saw what was possible for the Phoenix at the end of the 2009-10 season, when public excitement and on-field action exceeded many people's wildest dreams. That magical playoffs stanza rates up with our finest World Cup moments, especially in drawing wider-than-normal appeal.

But this Ifill Tower has developed a serious lean. The Phoenix are hovering above the ashes with just three wins from 12, and there is a depressing lack of buzz around the team.

Having one man coaching the national side and the country's only professional team was never ideal and if there is a cost-sharing reason then our soccer leaders are indulging in false economy.

The dual role limits the scope for expansive thinking and it develops an "in crowd" of players who progress. Our two-pronged elite level isn't big enough to withstand problems from one area leaking so easily into the other. The bottom line: to be tolerated this all-powerful dual role for one man needs to be highly successful, which it isn't and has hardly ever been.

The All Whites' performances this year may even suggest the national side is hurt by Herbert's conflicts of interest. Yet New Zealand Football has plenty of money in the bank, enough to allow him a full-time tilt at the next World Cup, a task of huge importance.

The A-League, meanwhile, hit a glorious high in the Melbourne local derby on Saturday night. A massive crowd and stirring atmosphere would have fitted any soccer stronghold around the world, a far cry from what is going on in Wellington.

A major indictment against Herbert, and the old club management of course, is the loss of Shane Smeltz, Kosta Barbarouses and Marco Rojas. They are rare magicians or goalscorers with star quality - to lose one would have been bad enough, to lose all three in a few seasons is unforgivable.

The general media reaction to those sorts of issues and the Phoenix plight has been rather too forgiving perhaps. To a degree, Herbert has the media in his grip, because to criticise the Phoenix coach is to risk being cut off from the chief information pipeline out of the All Whites. That's another very important reason the dual role is not a good one for the game in general.

An internet headline I found claimed "Ricki Herbert Excited By Phoenix Progress". Who in their right mind would string those words together right now except at a comedy night? And if the club had not lost players like the tiny Victory star Rojas, who some commentators rate as the best in the A-League, the Phoenix wouldn't need the tired old development plan excuse so loved by struggling coaches. Herbert has had long enough to make this a regular title-chasing team.

Maybe it all looks fantastic on Herbert's whiteboard and laptop. But from this distance, the Phoenix - who promised so much just two years ago - are falling into a dangerously deep hole. Herbert might be falling between two stools, and so are the judgments of him.

•Promoters Duco Events and Dean Lonergan have become masters of the PR game, knowing what turns the crowd on and spotting inviting gaps.

The latest Duco coup is to bring boxer David Tua's career back to life right before Christmas when the rugby reporters are building sandcastles on the beach instead of on behalf of the rugby union.

Tua, we are told in glorious headlines, will fight a world-ranked opponent and won't deign to take on a "nobody" outside the top five.

Shane Cameron will be distressed to hear that someone ranked outside the top five is a nobody... but moving on, all the best to Tua. He is among our most fascinating sportsmen and was in the vicinity of world class.

The story had a nice honesty, making the point fairly clear that Dave the Destroyer needs the cash. Go steady with that credit card though, Tuaman. The record shows many things involving your good self are slow burners. No surprise then if Duco is still seeking an opponent - somebody who isn't a nobody - come next Christmas.

- NZ Herald

Chris Rattue

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue writes about a wide range of sports for the New Zealand Herald. He has covered numerous sporting events for the Herald including Rugby World Cups and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Read more by Chris Rattue

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