Daniel Richardson is a Wellington-based sports journalist for NZME. News Service.

Soccer: Ernie the educator

First and foremost Ernie Merrick is an educator.

The former physical education teacher has an extensive background in developing athletes, which includes 12 years at the Victorian Institute of Sport before he was appointed as Melbourne Victory's head coach in 2005.

His journey as a football coach and an educator has brought him to Wellington and he conducted his first full training session outdoors with the Phoenix today and ran it so his players would learn something.

He doesn't intend to run them in to the ground during the club's 18-week pre-season as they build towards their first game of the 2013-2014 campaign against the Brisbane Roar on October 13, which must seem like an eternity away.

"When I'm involved in all training it's ball-centred,'' Merrick said. ``It's education. It's learning and it's fundamentally ... I'm a physical education teacher and I've always been a teacher and it should be hard work.

But it should be a lot of fun as well and they're developing skills and it's not as hard as working on a building site so it's not really a flogging and I think after a while you get used to the fact that this is the way the game's played. You either come up to that standard or you fall by the wayside and I have no doubts that some of these lads will fall by the wayside as well. But I'm not going to flog them. It'll be hard training, ball-centred and it will always be working on strategy and the style of football we want to play.''

Merrick had limited troops to work with today given Louis Fenton and Tyler Boyd are away with the national under-20s side as they finish their preparations ahead of this month's youth World Cup.

Jeremy Brockie and Michael Boxall are both out on loan, while Merrick chose not to renew the contracts of a handful of players during the weekend.

One of the players who was there was skipper Andrew Durante who said it was refreshing to have a new voice at their Newtown Park training pitch.

"It's a new brand of football. It seems like he always wants the ball moving,'' Durante said of Merrick's early instructions. ``Pass and move has already been the centre of attention at training. So I think you'll see a different brand of football. It's still early now and we've got a very long time to perfect it but hopefully we do.''

Just how the Phoenix will play won't take shape for another couple of months but it's clear to see that Merrick values players making use of the ball and scoring goals is the priority.

The `style' debate swirled around the Phoenix last season as former coach Ricki Herbert struggled with how his men should play but Merrick has a clear blueprint and it's now up to the players to buy in to it.

Merrick's main task during the next few months will be recruitment as he will have to have at least 20 players on the books by October, although he only has one import spot open.

High-profile signing Carlos Hernandez is likely to arrive in the capital next week and Merrick said his major want was to find another striker and a key midfielder.

He will have to add another goalkeeper to back-up Glen Moss while there is the need to fill out the defensive line.


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