Michael Burgess

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

Soccer: New kids on the block look up to Phoenix

Tony Popovic is West Sydney's first coach. Photo / Getty Images
Tony Popovic is West Sydney's first coach. Photo / Getty Images

It would have been inconceivable a few years ago but the newest A-League club is following the Wellington Phoenix model.

Hot on the heels of the demise of Gold Coast United, West Sydney Wanderers was launched just two weeks ago and faces a race against time before the start of the season in October.

Coach Tony Popovic, a former Socceroo and Crystal Palace defender, is a big fan of what the Phoenix have created over the last few seasons.

"They seem to have a great team spirit," Popovic told the Herald on Sunday, " and when you go there are you know you are in for a game. That is how you want it and that's what Wellington's got. Teams go there and they are nervous before they get there.

"We want to make West Sydney tough to come to as well. We want teams to come here and have that thought of wondering how they are going to get away with a result."

Popovic has admired the Phoenix's consistency, which has seen them make the playoffs in each of the last three seasons despite a thin budget and some trying circumstances during the drawn-out ownership drama.

"Each year everyone writes them off and each year they do the business," says Popovic. "They also seem to unearth one or two players every season that no one knows about. I know they have had some problems in the past but I have got a lot of time for the way the whole organisation has built that club to be very stable and competitive."

The Wanderers have secured a training ground but their home ground has still to be finalised, with Parramatta Stadium seen as the favourite at this stage. Popovic has signed eight players to his squad, including three from archrivals Sydney FC.

Due to their import status there have been precious few Kiwis at Australian A-League clubs in recent years - Jeremy Brockie, Shane Smeltz and Michael McGlinchey notable exceptions - but Popovic has an open mind over signing New Zealand talent.

"Yes, a New Zealander would be a visa player but I've never thought of it that way," says Popovic. "Maybe it is perceived that way but if I feel that a Kiwi can add the qualities that I require from a visa player I would be more than happy to take one. It is probably is a bit harder for them but I would have an open mind. If they are good enough, or they come on trial and produce I will be quite happy if he is willing to come and he can add to us."

All Whites defender Michael Boxall could be on his way to Wellington, after being cut by the Vancouver Whitecaps in the MLS.

According to Australian reports, coach Ricki Herbert tabled a two-year offer for the 23-year-old after the Canadian club exceeded their international quota.

It could be a good move for Boxall and the club. He would offer strong competition to Andrew Durante and Ben Sigmund while being in Wellington would only enhance his international prospects, with Herbert having a track record of enduring loyalty to his Phoenix players when All White squads are put together.

- Herald on Sunday

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