The Wellington Phoenix's choice of location to start their A-League football campaign appears to have played a part in captain Ulises Davila departing for a competition rival.
The Phoenix elected to base themselves in Wollongong to compete in the 2021-22 season. They played their first 11 home games in Australia, 10 of which were in the New South Wales town, before returning to New Zealand for matches in Wellington and Auckland at the backend of their campaign.
The Phoenix narrowly missed out on a potential third consecutive finals appearance, one point off sixth-placed Macarthur FC. That wasn't the only piece of crushing news the club had to endure, confirming the departure of Davila who will join Macarthur from next season.
Speaking on Newstalk ZB, Phoenix general manager David Dome says they tabled a record deal in order to hold on Davila, but reveals their move to Wollongong piqued the interest of the attacking midfielder and his family in a lifestyle across the ditch.
"I think to be honest, being located in Wollongong didn't help us because eventually his family did come over and I think they enjoyed living in that part of Australia. We were up against it when we had to compete with a potential lifestyle change that someone form maybe Central America may have appreciated more than living in this part of the world," Dome says.
"We certainly wanted to keep Uli, we thought he was an important part of the mix. The good thing about Uli - at no stage did he complain, and there were a number of things he had to overcome – his wife had a baby in Mexico and was separated from them for a long time."
Davila's defection makes it the third consecutive season Wellington's captain has left the club, joining Andrew Durante (2019) and Steven Taylor (2020).
Dome doesn't see the Mexican's defection to a rival club as an indication of a lack of ambition on their part.
"I think he'll be surprised that a number of people who have left the Wellington Phoenix and gone to other clubs, they've found it a lot more difficult than playing at Wellington. You look at Western United over the last week or two, all the players that left Wellington Phoenix and have gone to Western have struggled. [Durante] had a fantastic end to his career, he's probably the exception but the players and the coach that left have struggled since they've gone from a very solid, stable club.
"Good luck to him. We're going to move on and I have every confidence that Ufuk Talay and his team will pull together a very very competitive team for next season."
Dome has confirmed an offer is on the table for Israeli striker Tomer Hemed, who scored in the last five games of the season. Hemed has been given a "window" to make a decision.
While they have more cash at their disposal to bring in a marquee singing with Davila's departure, Dome doesn't expect any of that to go towards Hemed's salary should he recommit to the club.
Looking back on the season, Dome's pleased with how it ended despite missing out on a spot in the finals. The Phoenix enjoyed an 11-match unbeaten run which included victories over top six sides Macarthur and Adelaide United to round out their campaign.
Across the last three A-League seasons the club has a record of 33 wins, 20 draws and 27 losses.
"There's no doubt that nobody would've wanted to have come up against the Wellington Phoenix in the finals series," Dome says.
"That was the highlight of the season, those two games back here in New Zealand showed the club that there is a real devotion to the team and the club, and that people did really want to acknowledge the sacrifices that the club, the players and staff who had to go over made to get the A-League completed.
"It certainly gives us a springboard into next season... there is something really strong there that we can build on."