Michael Burgess

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

Soccer: Patience the key for Phoenix fans

Emmanuel Muscar of the Wellington Phoenix in action. Photo / Getty Images
Emmanuel Muscar of the Wellington Phoenix in action. Photo / Getty Images

Anyone expecting a quick fix to the Phoenix's current plight will need to hold their breath. Or at least be patient.

After last night's draw with Adelaide United, the team are still anchored near the bottom of the table, and crowds in Wellington have been on a downward spiral. A cruel run of injuries has decimated the A-League's thinnest squad, that is still overseen by a bare-bones coaching staff.

But there is unlikely to be any recruitment on or off the field in the next fortnight and it seems doubtful there will be much activity at all before the January transfer window.

When Terry Serepisos was replaced by a consortium of Wellington business leaders, there was an expectation that money would be made available to bolster the squad and perhaps add to Herbert's coaching staff. This has yet to eventuate, for a few reasons.

First, the last few months have been spent getting a budget in place, as well as a five-year plan.

After all the financial uncertainty and difficulties that have overshadowed the last 18 months, the priority was to get budgets and business plans in place before any other major moves.

Around this, all personnel contracts (especially those of the players) had to be re-drafted, a not inconsiderable task. The budget is expected to be in place in the next two weeks.

Second, the club's board is still yet to be appointed. The Phoenix board was disbanded back in 2010 and the club has lived without one ever since.

Once the board is assembled, decision-making within the franchise will become easier. Chief executive Nathan Greenham will report directly to the chairman of the board, who will then give the green light for any urgent decisions.

Third, with avenues exhausted within the A-League (until at least January) coach Ricki Herbert seems unwilling to gamble on players from the NZFC as he doesn't believe the talent exists there to make a difference. From this distance there seems little downside in giving someone like Aaron Clapham a few months to prove his worth and see how he responds to a professional environment.

He is an undoubted talent and impressed many judges in training through the South Africa campaign but Herbert is unconvinced that he is better than the players already at the club. Herbert has successfully recruited from the ASB Premiership and Australian State Leagues before (Ben Sigmund and Manny Muscat are prime examples) and that may yet be an avenue.

Finally, there is still no clarification on how the Welnix consortium is going to operate on a practical level. The group of seven has swelled to nine in recent weeks, with two new directors joining Rob and Lloyd Morrison, Gareth Morgan, Campbell Gower, Lib Petagna, Henry Tait and James Brow.

They have not yet been publicly named but the Herald on Sunday understands they are Rick Armstrong and Mark McGuiness. Armstrong is the founder and head of Armstrong Motor Group, which operates and sells prestige car franchises throughout New Zealand while McGuiness has an extensive background in property development and funds management and also sits on the Wellington Stadium board.

There have been logistical difficulties. Morrison is away in Nepal trekking and completing an ultra-marathon, another member of the consortium has spent time in New York (partly to run the marathon) and a third is heading overseas this week.

Former All White and Phoenix board member Steve Sumner can see both sides of the equation: "I don't want to be critical of these guys. They are brand new and need to plan for the future; all I would say is get the shop window sorted out as quick as you can. ... the sooner they [do that] the better the perception will be from supporters and corporates in New Zealand.

"We saw in 2009 [when they attracted over 30,000 in consecutive weeks] what happened if the team is doing well and playing good football."

On the flip side, there is a belief some short-term pain is inevitable as the club look to establish firm foundations and build for the future.

Sumner has taken a dim view of recent player complaints about being stretched to the limit, as injuries have tested the resolve of the squad.

"Once the players start talking that they are down to bare bones, it is almost like they are convincing themselves that they haven't got a chance. That's not the point. I've read in the papers that it has been a drain on the players that are left.

"Big deal. If I was one of the 15, I'd be delighted, knowing that somebody else wasn't chasing my shirt."

- Herald on Sunday

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