Soccer: Herbert given vote of confidence

By Kris Shannon

Ricki Herbert Photo / Hagen Hopkins
Ricki Herbert Photo / Hagen Hopkins

The Phoenix have slumped to last in the A-League but owner Gareth Morgan has all but guaranteed Ricki Herbert will return as coach next season.

Though that may sound like the dreaded 'vote of confidence', the worst nightmare for every English coach because it invariably precedes dismissal, Herbert probably has no reason to fret.

Having led the club since its inception, Herbert's contract as head coach runs out at the end of the season before a two-year option on "football-related matters" kicks in.

It was initially thought that could mean a new role as director of football, overseeing all matters associated with the team while a new coach takes the reins, but Morgan today ruled out that possibility on financial grounds.

"Yeah, pretty much," Morgan told Radio Live when asked whether Herbert would return as coach next season. "I just don't think we're where we want to be to enable us to have [a director of football].

"We have to get financially a bit stronger than we are, and that comes down to performance on the field and a whole lot of stuff off the field."

That may sound as if Herbert's future as coach is by default rather than any desire from the owners - hamstrung by Herbert being under contract and unable to employ a new coach to work under him - but Morgan did back the A-League's most experienced manager.

"We certainly don't want to lose him," he said. "Eventually, [director of football] is where it would be great to have Ricki because I don't think there's anybody in New Zealand football that's got as much knowledge and skill as that man."

Morgan was learning that first hand last week, being spotted taking an active role at training in the lead up to last weekend's loss to West Sydney.

The economist's participation was criticised in some quarters, but Morgan defended his involvement as typical business practice and said the owners were "absolutely more hands on" than a traditional board.

"Every element of the business is being looked at," he said. "So it's like saying to me, 'you bought this business but don't go into the creative department, what they're doing in there is top secret, or don't go into the accounting department because you wouldn't like what you see'.

"There's nothing here that's exempt from us having a look and seeing if we can help the people in charge of it do a better job. That includes on the field as well."

On the field is where the Phoenix have been in a state of flux, caught between earning results and attempting to adhere to the owner's edict about playing 'total football'.

The players have clearly struggled to find the balance, winning only one of the last seven games, but Morgan remained committed to the revamp in style.

"Everything centres on what happens on the field but you've got to take a medium-term strategy and a short-term strategy. Sometimes when you're making reasonably radical changes - like we are - then the short-term strategy could suffer in the interim.

"That was the fundamental question asked and I think it's a reasonable question to ask - whether your product is the best product on the block. The answer that came back was the A-League was evolving each year and the style was changing a bit - and we need to keep up.

"Ricki was at the forefront of that decision and he's totally supportive of where we're going medium-term and he will drive it. He is the coach and he's got 100 per cent support."


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