Michael Burgess

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

Soccer: Players back Herbert despite loss

All Whites captain Tommy Smith, seen fighting for possession with Mexico's Oribe Peralta, has backed coach Ricki Herbert. Photo / AP
All Whites captain Tommy Smith, seen fighting for possession with Mexico's Oribe Peralta, has backed coach Ricki Herbert. Photo / AP

Following criticism of coach, All Whites come out in support and take some of blame for defeat in Mexico

Ricki Herbert may be on borrowed time but the All Whites players have come to the support of their embattled coach.

In the wake of Thursday's 5-1 defeat at the Azteca Stadium there is a general view in the soccer community that Herbert's position is untenable; that next Wednesday's match should be his last game in charge, and his contract, which runs until the end of this campaign, should not be extended.

In the immediate aftermath of the loss, Herbert told the Herald that he was not "100 per cent" sure what he would do, hinting that he might push to continue in the job he has held since 2005.

That has provoked strong reaction from critics and former players but members of his team expressed their faith in Herbert.

"All the lads are behind Ricki," said captain Tommy Smith. "He has done a great job over the years and it is tough to come up against a Mexican team like that - you would never have thought we would have been playing Mexico in the first place.

I think we made them look better than they were, especially in the first half. They are obviously tidy players but we held out well for that first half-hour"

"You guys in the media are more than welcome to make judgments and suggestions," added goalkeeper Glen Moss. "That is good for the game and happens all over the world. But we have to stick together. We are a tight-knit group and we support everyone from the coach to the kitman to the amateur players."

"Our preparation over the last few days has been excellent," said Rory Fallon. "Ricki and the coaching staff did everything they could to prepare us well - we just seemed to get a bit overawed and couldn't get into the game until it was too late."

Public shows of support towards coaches are not unusual, regardless of the situation. Indeed, the closer the axe hovers, the more vocal a playing group can be.

But even privately some members of the team say that the changes needed go far beyond who holds the coach's clipboard.

"Things have to change within the organisation," said one player.

"It needs to get more professional and it is extremely difficult when you don't play games, especially when you come up against a team like Mexico."

Herbert got a lot of things wrong last Thursday, and needs to shoulder a vast share of the blame. But he wouldn't have expected his players to forget how to defend set pieces - or show an inability to play simple passes for long periods of the match.

Meanwhile, the Mexicans have emphasised that the job is not done yet, despite many of their fans already clamouring for flights to Brazil.

"It will be a very long trip to New Zealand and a difficult game," said coach Miguel Herrera. "We have to play like nothing has happened and it is 0-0."

"Nothing is decided yet," said captain Rafael Marquez. "It's football and although we have a good advantage, anything can happen. It is important for us to score a goal in Wellington - as early as possible - to give us confidence."

The Mexican team left immediately after Thursday's match on a private jet bound for Los Angeles. From there they boarded a commercial flight to Sydney, where they were to spend one night before the short trip to Wellington.

The All Whites are due to arrive in Wellington at 11am today.

Ricki Herbert's fate goes on the line

Should the All Whites coach be dumped or stay on? Michael Burgess delves into both sides of the argument

Why he should stay

Experience

Herbert has a wealth of experience after eight years in charge and knows the current group of players inside out. A new coach would take time to adjust to the demanding - and unforgiving - role of the All Whites coach.

Alternatives

There are precious few realistic alternatives available in New Zealand. Assistant coach Neil Emblen aspires to the role but admits he is probably not ready yet. NZF can't afford a top class overseas coach and anything below is a gamble, as Australia have experienced.

Circumstances

There were an array of factors that conspired against Herbert this year. The untimely retirement of Ryan Nelsen was the biggest. The match-up with Mexico was foreseen by no one and the injury to Winston Reid was a cruel blow. And the build-up left a lot to be desired, especially the lack of meaningful matches arranged by NZF.

Restored pride and passion

Whatever his critics claim, no one can deny he has restored passion and pride to the jersey. Players want to turn out for the national team and credible results have been achieved since 2006, after the forgettable period from 2003-04.

Why he should go

Fresh approach

After eight years, it's time for a new voice. The players are loyal to Herbert but would probably appreciate new ideas and a fresh way of thinking.

Right time

Barring a miracle in Wellington, NZF will now need to focus on the 2018 World Cup in Russia. A new coach needs to be given time before the qualifiers in 2017.

The horror in Honiara

Remains the major blot on Herbert's resume and in most other soccer nations would have meant instant dismissal. Poor planning, preparations and tactics ensured the All Whites' dramatic failure at the 2012 Oceania Nations Cup and the effect of missing the Confederation's Cup is still being felt.

Selection

Some selection decisions in recent times have been way off the mark, like Jeremy Christie at the Azteca and Chris Killen in centre midfield in Honiara. Herbert seems to have lost his touch with the team sheet.

Lack of inclusive approach

The size of New Zealand demands that the head coach has an inclusive approach but Herbert has mostly done the opposite. He has barely engaged with clubs and coaches at ASB Premiership level, even when he was coach of the Phoenix in the A-League.

- NZ Herald

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