Michael Burgess

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

Soccer: Turner fires up for Herbert

Brian Turner (left) and Ricki Herbert. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Brian Turner (left) and Ricki Herbert. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Brian Turner has had enough. The All Whites manager has kept silent for the past few years but is fed up with what he describes as a "litany of untruths", mostly directed at former All Whites coach Ricki Herbert.

A newspaper article last week alleged "a complete communication breakdown" between Herbert and his players, that he had lost the team's respect, failed to farewell them after last week's World Cup play-off in Wellington and ordered the media ban on arrival back from Mexico.

Turner claims that:

• He was the sole instigator of the media ban at the airport.

• Team meetings proceeded as normal after the first leg in Mexico.

• Communication channels remained open.

• Herbert personally farwelled every member of the playing group and management staff.

• It was a consensus decision not to tell the players of Herbert's resignation before it was revealed in the media.

• Despite playing a major role during the 2010 World Cup campaign, Ryan Nelsen and Simon Elliott didn't once set foot in the 'technical house', where all planning, preparation and tactics were done.

"We've been ignoring things but enough is enough," Turner told the Herald on Sunday. "I'm not here to defend Ricki ... it's just he doesn't deserve it. There has been so much stuff written day in, day out, that you can challenge."

After an international playing career that lasted 16 years, Turner was All Whites assistant coach during 2008-10 and manager from 2011.

"[Ricki] can defend himself and I don't always agree with what he has said and done and he knows that. But he has been hammered for some things that have no credence.

"People said after the game that Ricki didn't farewell the players. Listen - he went up to every single player to shake their hand and wish them well but it was reported that he didn't talk to them.

"Ricki had nothing to do with the media ban. It was me. Looking back, it was the wrong thing to do but it was my decision ... Then I read in the paper that Ricki stormed on to the bus. It's bullshit."

Turner concedes there wasn't much video analysis and discussion of the 5-1 defeat at the Azteca, because they wanted to lift the playing group after the demoralising result.

"The technical group, led by Ricki, decided not to show the players; we discussed it but thought it would be counterproductive," says Turner. "Why would you show them again? And then someone says we didn't have any video sessions."

After a few days of 'will he, won't he' before the second leg, Herbert revealed he would be resigning at the end of this current campaign. He told journalists but not the playing group, who found out through the media.

"That was a major discussion among the whole management group," says Turner. "We decided it wasn't a great idea to tell the players right now - better that they focus completely on the match."

Turner also takes issue with the idea of a communication breakdown between the coach and his players.

"The team has just been beaten 5-1 and the coach is not communicating," says Turner. "Well, bloody hell, if the All Blacks had been beaten 35-10, I'm not sure how talkative Graham Henry would have been. But Ricki was communicating. There were team meetings, there were chats with the leadership group ...

"Ricki is not perfect but he is an extremely capable football coach. Most countries would salute him. Yes, he has been abrasive - I know that. And yes, he hasn't made friends sometimes. But why don't we focus on the positives instead of slagging him off because he is a bit abrasive?"

Like Herbert, Turner is also resentful of ongoing claims around Ryan Nelsen and Simon Elliott's role in South Africa, with the view frequently espoused that the duo (and other senior players) ran the show at the World Cup.

"For four years now, I have heard that Ryan and Simon ran our team," says Turner. "I have never said anything up to now but I can tell you categorically now - as assistant coach I stayed in the technical house in South Africa where all of the decisions, planning and work was done [and] Ryan and Simon never set foot inside that house.

"We used Ryan in the way that was best for our group, like the All Blacks use Richie McCaw ... why wouldn't we? We asked Ryan key things sometimes about what he thought ... isn't that what you do? Does that mean that he runs the team? It is so far wrong, it is not funny.

"There have been two reporters that have bandied the thing around. It's also disrespectful to Ryan and Simon who were wonderful contributors to New Zealand football, two of our greatest players. They wouldn't want a bar of it. People should drop that perception. It is because they have an axe to grind against Ricki.

"If you look at 1982, people don't credit the players, they say [coach] John Adshead and fair enough. And when we had our biggest success ... It's not that you want continued adulation but I know how hard he [Herbert] has worked and how committed he has been - and he deserves better. In New Zealand football, no one has ever done and no one will ever do in my lifetime or your lifetime what we did in 2010; being undefeated at a World Cup."

Meanwhile, the same article also stated that even Jeremy Christie was surprised when he was picked to start in central midfield in the first leg but the player himself disagrees.

"I wasn't really surprised. I don't think it was out of the blue," says Christie. "We knew we would need a defensive approach and I thought it might be myself or Ivan [Vicelich] in the anchor midfield role. It was probably going to be one of us."

Christie and assistant coach Neil Emblen said communication issues were not apparent in the camp between the first and second leg.

"There was a lot going on around the environment but players were just focused on their performance," says Emblen. "We always have limited time together, which squeezes the opportunities."

"I didn't feel there was less communication than before," says Christie. "We had our meetings, so I do find that a little inaccurate."

- Herald on Sunday

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