When Ernie Merrick arrived for pre-season training with the Wellington Phoenix last year he didn't even have a starting XI.
So when he looks across a windy Newtown Park in the capital this week and sees a full quota of players it will remind him of how far the club has come under his watch.
"Well it's already been an entirely different start to 12 months ago," he said of this year's pre-season. "Twelve months ago we had nine players, two of them were injured, I had to sign 12 new players; there was no pre-season plan. We had no fixtures for friendly matches and I don't think we had any physios at the time. We had a couple of boys that needed operations in [Ben Sigmund] and Tyler Boyd. It was all over the place."
Merrick was keen to point out it was nobody's fault but he was just left to pick up the pieces following the end of the Ricki Herbert era at the club, while a number of players were also moved on.
As the club looks to the 2014-2015 campaign, the Phoenix will have an 18-week pre-season, which includes about 12 fixtures against local club sides and fellow A-League teams.
Merrick already has a squad of 19 players, while they have members from the club's school of excellence training with them and the odd academy prospect joining in. James McGarry, son of former All White Mike McGarry worked out with the squad today. (tues)
"We are up and running from day one," Merrick said. "It's actually a very exciting build-up to what should be a great season."
Next month's Football United Tour will also be of interest to the players when they meet English Premier League outfits West Ham United and Newcastle.
New Phoenix signing Alejandro Gorrin has slotted in nicely and Merrick said he saw him as someone with great potential.
"I'm working with him so that he can not only play a defensive midfield role but he can also go forward in an attacking role."
Despite the club's ongoing pursuit of midfielder Michael McGlinchey, Merrick said he couldn't comment on that situation and noted they were still in the market for a top-quality striker with pace, sharp dribbling and the ability to get in behind defenders.
Big-spending Melbourne City have signed Spanish international David Villa for a 10-game guest stint to begin the season, while they've also grabbed former Chelsea midfielder Damien Duff but Merrick remained confident the Phoenix would be able to be competitive despite not splashing the cash.
"The board has been very supportive and it's a good budget and I think we've got money to get the right player," Merrick said. "It's just finding the right player and I'd rather go for younger than an older player."
Off-contract attacker Paul Ifill, who ruptured his Achilles tendon last season, has continued his rehabilitation at the Phoenix and Merrick said a possibility remained that he could be a part of the squad in some capacity this year given he could soon qualify as a local.
"Paul is determined to get involved again in football and preferably at our club and we'll give him every opportunity."
The Phoenix open the 2014-2015 season against the Perth Glory in Wellington on Sunday, October 12.
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