Michael Burgess

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

Football: How Phoenix nailed visit

Matt Jarvis (left) is part of the West Ham squad in New Zealand. Photo / AP
Matt Jarvis (left) is part of the West Ham squad in New Zealand. Photo / AP

The presence of the All Whites captain, a thumbs up from the manager, the London Olympic stadium and an unlikely link to this country among the coaching staff helped to get West Ham United to New Zealand.

For many months, the proposed visit to play the Wellington Phoenix was up in the air.

In New Zealand terms, West Ham United are a massive sporting operation. They may not be one of the big four or five Premier League teams but they are a long-established club with a rich heritage. The London team have produced 38 England internationals, from the glory years of Geoff Hurst and Bobby Moore to Frank Lampard and Andy Carroll.

And it's a huge business. Their turnover this year will be nearly $200 million - almost twice that of the New Zealand Rugby Union.

They employ more than 100 coaches and football staff and have almost 70 players on their books. They also have fans worldwide.

So why would they want to stage more than a quarter of their pre-season matches in New Zealand, including one against the Phoenix at Eden Park on Wednesday?

Negotiations took nearly a year. It's a massive logistical exercise for the club, and the conditioning staff have concerns about the "physical costs and consequences" of the visit and considerable planning has gone into how to manage the long flights and games in a short window.

West Ham also received offers from Asia and attracted interest from Africa and South America. The Winston Reid factor helped New Zealand's cause, and coach Sam Allardyce was open to the idea from the start as he had previously played a pre-season tournament in Australia while at Bolton.

"This tour is part of a new global push," says club secretary Andrew Pilcher. "Since our move to the [London] Olympic stadium was confirmed. There has been an awareness that we need to broaden our horizons."

It also helped that Allardyce's assistant manager, Neil McDonald, had fond memories of this country, having toured as a player with Newcastle United in 1985. The Magpies, whose team included a teenage Paul Gascoigne, played four matches against the All Whites and McDonald scored goals in Christchurch and Auckland.

"It takes me back to the mid-1980s, which is a few moons ago," says McDonald. "It's always nice to win and impress people, especially when you travel that far, and that's what we'll try to do - to show we're a good team. Results don't really matter at that stage, but we'll be looking for our performances to increase with every game we play."

It will be far from a festival visit, either. The team will be in the middle of a limited pre-season window, with players pushing for spots before the season kicks off in August. They had two matches before departure (Stevenage and Ipswich) and only three or four more games after the tour before the season starts.

"I think the most important thing is that it's our pre-season, so we will just have to get our work done," Reid says. "We know we will be working hard down there and doing our best to get fit and ready for the new season."

There will be some time for other pursuits and fishing, golf and sailing activities have already been requested by Reid and his team-mates. Bungy jumping, though, is off the agenda.

"We would have to convince the club insurers, which would be impossible," says Pilcher. "These players are worth too much."

The BBC estimated late last year the average Premier League wage was about 30,000 ($60,000) a week, and players like Carroll and Winston Reid pocket more in a few weeks than Richie McCaw or Dan Carter earn in a year.

Carroll's accumulated career transfer fees exceed 50 million ($99 million). Reid joined West Ham for $8.7 million and is said to be valued at $10 million-$12 million on the open market.

The Phoenix are keen to explore more glamour tours in the future but Premier League clubs will become more difficult to attract as they receive more lucrative offers from closer destinations.

- Herald on Sunday

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