One of New Zealand's greatest players has jumped to the defence of beleaguered Wellington Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert.
Brian Turner and Herbert were teammates through the 1981-82 World Cup campaign. Turner also spent a season as Herbert's assistant at the Phoenix and these days handles much of the off-field work for the All Whites coached by Herbert.
Turner admits the harrowing 7-1 loss to Sydney FC in the last round of the Hyundai A-League is far from acceptable but says the fans need to look more closely at the reasons for the fall from grace by a team which is the only club in the league to reach the play-offs for the last three seasons.
"The goalposts have moved massively in even the last 12 months," said Turner. "The quality of both the players and the football being played is worlds apart from what we saw a season ago.
"We hear that Sydney paid $400,000 for Joel Griffiths for the remainder of this season. He gave them an instant return when he scored the opening goal of the match after 10 minutes. Without anything like that kind of money to offer players, Ricki is expected to try and match teams like Sydney with 17- and 18-year-olds. The gap is massive."
While it was a blowout on the scoreboard with Sydney scoring their biggest win and the Phoenix slumping to their biggest loss, the match stats told a different story.
Mark Paston in the Phoenix goal made four saves - along with the seven he did not stop - while, at the other end of the field Vedran Janjetovic made only four. The Phoenix led the shot count 23-16, won 11 corners to two and had an equal share of possession.
Simply, in key areas, they were not good enough.
Striker Stein Huysegems had three clear-cut scoring chances in the opening 10 or so minutes, failed to convert any and then became a passenger as the train smash unfolded.
In midfield the Phoenix were just as inept and cruelly exposed as Vince Lia and Alex Smith were ineffectual both in their supply of even half-decent ball to their strikers or in getting back to do a "roll up your sleeves job" on defence which led to a free ride for Italian superstar Alessandro Del Piero who needed no second invitation to take control.
"When I was involved with the Phoenix two and a half seasons ago, we were on a par with a lot of the teams. The club attracted some reasonable players including Fred but unfortunately he had to return to Brazil following his father's death and we never had him again," said Turner. "All teams need a quality No10. Fred was going to be that player but it didn't work out.
"The league has moved on and while it is commendable in the way the Phoenix are encouraging young players, their form, understandably, goes up and down. You are now seeing how Marco Rojas and Kosta Barbarouses have kicked on but they took time to do it.
"This team is also lacking the kind of leadership Tim Brown gave them. Week in, week out, he gave 100 per cent, scored six or seven goals and added real steel in the midfield. They don't have that now," said Turner. "It now looks like they are confused and lacking confidence but in a league like this, players not up to it will be exposed."
The Phoenix are at home to Newcastle Jets on Sunday while in the match of the round the top two teams meet with Central Coast at home to Adelaide on Friday.By Terry Maddaford Email Terry