Michael Burgess

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Soccer: Could we see Suarez play here

Luis Suarez could play in New Zealand if the Phoenix can attract Liverpool Down Under. Photo / AP
Luis Suarez could play in New Zealand if the Phoenix can attract Liverpool Down Under. Photo / AP

It has been 25 years but we could soon see a prominent English team such as Spurs, West Ham or Liverpool on these shores.

The Phoenix have plans for a match against an English Premier League team in New Zealand - and a game in 2013 is not out of the question.

The Wellington A-League team hope to bring a "top 10" Premier League side to New Zealand for a pre-season match, to be staged in either Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch or Dunedin.

"We've been talking to some EPL sides," Phoenix Chairman Rob Morrison told the Herald on Sunday. "We are looking at possibilities of bringing out an EPL side, maybe on the back of an Asian trip. We want to push the boundaries and try to do something exciting during the off-season. It would be a challenge - New Zealand is a long way from anywhere but we are looking at the options. We have been having discussions and if you don't start asking, you don't get anywhere."

Everton were the last English top flight club to visit this country back in 1987. Brought out for Auckland Football's centenary celebrations, they came as reigning league champions and had games against Auckland and Canterbury.

The Phoenix say they have done their sums and are confident that a visit by a Premier League team would be profitable, despite the costs involved.

"We are certain that such a match would draw a big crowd," says Phoenix CEO David Dome, "with fans from all across the country and even Australia, while we know how big these clubs are in South-east Asia. We would hope to attract a near sell-out of Eden Park, or any other venue."

Dome adds that the viability of the venture depends on financial and logistical support from local and central government and the club has already had "positive discussions" with potential host cities.

Premier League teams insist on a guaranteed up front match appearance fee while the hosts would also have to take care of business class airfares and accommodation for a travelling contingent of more than 40 personnel.

A match fee of US$1 million is a starting point for many Premier League teams, though mega-clubs such as Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea charge over US$2 million and are not on the radar.

"It needs to be a side that would be attractive and would gets the crowd," says Morrison. "You need teams that would draw the fans in - clubs with big followings like Spurs, West Ham and Liverpool would be ideal and people would get a buzz out of watching them."

"It would be a world class side," says Dome, "either a team in the top 10 or one with a strong history and a large fan base."

The idea of Spurs, Liverpool or West Ham, for whom All Whites defender Winston Reid is a regular starter, playing the Phoenix in New Zealand is an ambitious goal but surely not out of the question.

The Wellington visit by LA Galaxy in 2007 - when David Beckham was still somewhere near his prime and the American club were in demand worldwide - showed just what can be achieved if the price is right and the marketing and pre-match activities are done well.

Morrison, Gareth Morgan and his Welnix cohorts are accustomed to multi-million dollar ventures and will not be daunted, focusing on getting the business model right.

Meanwhile, the Phoenix are also looking at establishing a regular four-team pre-season tournament, possibly to be played in Asia or South America and include other A-League teams as well as a local side.

"We have a very long off-season and it would be good to have something a bit more concrete each year," says Morrison. "It would fill the gap, be good for fans and great from a football development point of view."

Morrison mentions Argentina or Uruguay as possible South American venues but admits the more likely scenario would be an event in a football-mad Asian country such as Malaysia, South Korea, Thailand or China.

- Herald on Sunday

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