Knights bosses insisted last night they were caught off guard when manager John Adshead called time on the club halfway through his two-year contract.

The man regarded as the country's finest football manager quit for personal reasons after presiding over a disastrous last place in the inaugural season of the A-League.

The Auckland-based club will begin the search for a new manager promptly, but aren't about to rush a decision which will be crucial to them becoming a credible force.

"It needs to be done as soon as possible but we can't afford a kneejerk reaction and make a very quick appointment without going through due process," said Knights chief executive Steve O'Hara.

Recently appointed coach Paul Nevin, formerly reserve and academy coach at English Premier League club Fulham, is temporarily in charge while the search for Adshead's replacement begins.

Adshead, most renowned for guiding the All Whites to their only World Cup finals appearance, in Spain in 1982, contacted Knights chairman Anthony Lee late last week to tell him he intended to resign. The board discussed it over the weekend and reluctantly accepted.

It had been a grim season for Adshead - who described the Knights when he was named their first manager as "the ultimate challenge in New Zealand football" - as the club fumbled their way through a dreadful campaign during which at one point they lost 11 successive games.

The contract of his assistant, Tommy Mason, was not renewed at the end of a competition in which the Knights finished last by 20 points with one win from 21 games.

"I leave knowing that the rebuilding process is well under way and that the affairs of the team are in excellent hands with Paul Nevin," Adshead said in a statement last night.

It was just a few weeks ago that the Knights insisted Adshead would fulfil his two-year contract.

"But at the end of the day, John's got to do what is right for himself, and that's what he has done," O'Hara added.

He was signed by the Knights in December, 2004, having coached in Oman for several years.

Off the field, he successfully fought a battle with prostate cancer last May but until yesterday had been making positive noises about the future of the Knights and his role at the club.

The club have been under fire from A-League bosses, notably head of operations Matt Carroll, who last month berated them over the lack of New Zealand players in their squad, going so far as to issue a warning that the league bosses wanted to see up to 10 Kiwis in the squad.

Several players have either resigned or been picked up by other clubs since the season finished, notably fan favourite, dreadlocked midfielder Jeremy Brockie, which has raised questions of what the coming season holds.

O'Hara would not speculate on whether Nevin was a frontrunner to assume the top chair, or how wide the search would be.

"We haven't really considered anything specific at all. We've got to decide what our options are, look at who's available and everything goes into the mix at that point," he said.

Asked if the club had played a part in Adshead's decision, O'Hara refused to answer, calling speculation along those lines "wholly inappropriate".

"It's a very high-pressure job, and while he's beaten the cancer well and truly now, there's still some ongoing treatments that take some time and I'm sure that was part of John's thinking," O'Hara said.

When Adshead joined the Knights, he gave the club a measure of credibility as it set out into uncharted waters.

The events of the past few months proved a sad ending to a career in which he touched heights no other New Zealand football manager has, and maybe ever will.

John Adshead

* Born: March 27, 1942, Fleetwood, Lancashire
* Arrived in New Zealand: January 1976
* Clubs: Manurewa, Mount Roskill, Mount Wellington, Perth, Knights
* National teams: All Whites (taking them to World Cup finals 1982)
* Also: Coached at various levels in Oman from 2000-04