Andreas Heraf says he has no desire to become All Whites coach, despite his swift and surprising rise to the Football Ferns role.
Heraf appears the new kingmaker of New Zealand Football, and has quickly become one of the sport's most powerful figures.
The former Austrian international was appointed NZF technical director last August but already his brief seems much wider than that of his predecessors.
On Friday, he announced coaching appointments for the men's under-17 and under-20 teams, and is expected to have the final say on who gets the vacant All Whites job.
He's also landed the biggest role in New Zealand women's football, becoming Football Ferns coach after Tony Readings' sudden exit in November.
The manner of his ascension has raised eyebrows in the football community — the job was not advertised and Heraf essentially selected himself for the role, an unusual situation. But he insists the scenario is temporary and that he is not setting himself up to take on the All Whites in the future.
Heraf was appointed in April and officially started in late August. Despite a long coaching background, he says he was happy to put aside those ambitions at that time.
"The decision was clear for me; going into that role, I won't be coach any more and that was fine for me because I did it for many years," Heraf told the Herald. "[NZF chief executive] Andy [Martin] was asking me many times, 'are you sure you want to do that?' And I am sure and I was sure."
He says the Ferns role was never something he intended to pursue and he had no issues with Readings after being on the national team's United States tour in September.
"There were no doubts about Tony at all," said Heraf. "We came back and he had his half year review with Andy [Martin]. [Tony] said it's time to make a decision and to say he wants to change something. We had this discussion and at the end, we said, 'maybe it's a good idea for both parties to go a new way'. So he can develop in the direction that he wants to go and we have the chance to find someone else."
Heraf stepped into the breach for the Thailand tour in late November, alongside Gareth Turnbull, but claims he had no intention of continuing in the role.
"After the tour, the girls asked me if I could stay," said Heraf. "The captain Ali [Riley] came to me and I said, 'sorry, I can't stay with you. I'm the technical director. I did it as an interim and we are looking for a new one. And I promise you we will find a good one, but I can't stay.'"
But Heraf changed his mind back in New Zealand. He was impressed by Turnbull but didn't think he was ready to make such a leap.
"I thought he could be a good coach but we had the requirement of a pro licence for that coach and we didn't want to go away from that," said Heraf.
"So the only hurdle is his licence. So give him time for experience and to make this licence, support him doing this licence and someone should step in. So I did it, because I have the experience, I have the pro licence, and we did a good job in Thailand. It made sense, the girls wanted to do it, it's a whole picture and for one-and-a-half years — it's not that long."
It was an unusual situation, as Readings had been part of the panel that selected the Austrian, but Heraf says the solution is pragmatic.
"Being right now in the Ferns role is for a short time until we are ready to change that and then it is gone," said Heraf. "We agreed that I will do the World Cup next year. But the idea is not about me. The idea is we want to make better local coaches. We want to support them, develop them if they are good. It is the only way for small football nations, to use locals."
But will Heraf be interested in the All Whites' position when it next becomes available? "If you asked me two years ago, I would say yes," admitted Heraf. "But if you ask me now, I would say no. I know my role now. At the moment, no ... life changes, and maybe one day, that changes again. But for sure you can't do it in the double function [along with technical director] and at the moment, there is no ambition for me to do that."
Heraf enjoyed a solid career in Austria, mostly for Rapid Vienna. He lost the 1997 UEFA Cup-Winners Cup final 1-0 to Paris Saint-Germain and also picks Champions League encounters against Manchester United at Old Trafford and Juventus at Stadio delle Alpi as career highlights. Heraf was capped 11 times by Austria and was part of their 1998 World Cup squad but didn't take the field in France.
He coached several clubs in the Austrian second division, before becoming head of youth football at the Austrian FA, where he remained for nine years, taking age group teams to international tournaments. He discovered New Zealand during the 2015 Under-20 World Cup, then heard about the technical director vacancy.
"I wanted a new challenge," says Heraf. "I thought, 'if you don't do something new now, maybe you never will'."
Heraf spent the first 100 days of his reign traversing the country, He also travelled with the Ferns to the US and Thailand, as well as spending an extended period at the Under-17 World Cup in India.
"I took 28 flights in the first three months," said Heraf. "It was a lot and really tough, to be honest, but it was necessary. I have the full picture now, and in 2018, I want to improve and implement what we can do."
Heraf has strong guiding principles, drawn on his own statistical analysis and experience as a coach. He believes in pragmatic football, likes to emphasise the value of set pieces and doesn't think possession is necessarily that important. He contrasts what he labels the "philosophy of dreams" ("Barcelona-style football") to the "philosophy of success", where winning is paramount.
"In modern football, more games are won by teams out of possession. More teams win with less than 50 per cent of ball possession."
He offers the example of Portugal, who stuttered through the group phase of the 2016 European Championships but hit form later to win the tournament. He also cites Iceland as an example of a side that excelled with minimal possession in their four successful matches.
Heraf emphasises set pieces, counter-attacks and pressing as the main tenets of his footballing vision.
"At Euro 2016, 50 per cent of all goals were from direct set piece or next action after the set piece," said Heraf. "So how do I get as many set pieces in the game and avoid getting set pieces against you? The second part is counter-attacks ... about 22 per cent. So now 70 per cent of scoring and conceding goals comes from set pieces and counter-attacks.
"There should be a big focus on set pieces — good delivery, good runs, good ideas, be creative. And focus on defending set pieces, don't make too many fouls in crucial areas. Get better at playing counter-attacks and avoid counter-attacks.
"And pressing for sure, because it's easy, you just need to be fit. My philosophy is clear; put in all the parts of modern football and try to implement them."