Roy Krishna is the flying footballer who was always missing the plane. Wellington Phoenix striker Krishna is a contender for the Johnny Warren Medal for the A-League's best player, such has been his impact this season.

But the continuation of his startling form raises the question: why did it take the Phoenix — or any other professional club — so long to grab a player of such potential?

Staggeringly, New Zealand's only A-League club initially rejected a star sitting under their noses, a player who was tormenting domestic opponents.

His Waitakere United National League team-mates couldn't believe their luck as the Fijian goal ace ran riot year after year.


"He came with a bit of a reputation for a temper but we never saw any evidence of that — he was always very humble," recalls former All White and Waitakere glory days icon Jake Butler, who now plays semi-professionally in Melbourne.

"He had so much raw pace and power. He's little but one of the strongest guys I've ever played with. We had some pretty big boys in the league but he never had any trouble mixing it.

"We all knew we were very lucky to have him there. He was a special player ... he'd always come up with something on the big occasion.

"He was one or two levels above us. It was a bit of a shock it took so long for him to go to a higher level. You wonder where he might have got to."

Lady luck is often a sporting influence but the feel-good factor around Krishna must be accompanied by some frustration.

His speed and goals have the Mark Rudan-coached side positioned on the cusp of possibly the club's finest A-League season, and he has just overtaken the revered Paul Ifill as the top scorer in Phoenix history.

But the Fiji captain is still blooming at the age of 31 after a series of shots at the big time whistled over the bar.

"But I never gave up hope," says Krishna from Australia, where the Phoenix have played in Perth and Newcastle in the past week.


The Phoenix meet the Melbourne Victory on Friday in Auckland, the city where it all started for Krishna over 10 years ago.

Waitakere United first spied Krishna at an Oceania under-20 tournament in West Auckland and were bowled over again when scouting another player in Fiji.

His journey into the professional scene started as it was to go on — in confusion.

The Labasa club refused to release Krishna and it took Waitakere six months to secure
him, thanks eventually to Fiji Football president Dr Sahu Khan's intervention.

After settling in with Waitakere, Krishna was a sensation in domestic football, terrorising defenders and later being named in the National League team of the decade. He scored 55 times in 75 Waitakere appearances.

In 2009, he played two trials at the Phoenix under coach Ricki Herbert and hit a road block. Herbert wanted a big target man, Krishna says.

"I'm quite short," observes Krishna, rather accurately, "and more of an on-the-ball player. He wanted something quite different from my style."

Rex Dawkins, the man Krishna describes as "my second daddy", expands on what happened.

Dawkins, who rose to football prominence as the boss of Waitakere City and then United, believes that New Zealand great Brian Turner — an assistant to Herbert around this time — may have had an influence.

He was one or two levels above us. It was a bit of a shock it took so long for him to go to a higher level.

"Roy trialled with them in mid-winter, it was freezing cold, the ground substandard, it didn't go well," says Dawkins, Krishna's mentor and manager.

"I'm not knocking Brian but it was well known that he didn't have a high opinion of Roy. He thought he was a poacher."

Krishna had to get used to such rejection. He tried out for the Northern Fury in Townsville in a squad including Liverpool great Robbie Fowler. But an import position never materialised.

"Luck wasn't on my side," muses Krishna.

English club Derby County called, via former Waitakere goalkeeper Danny Robinson. But because of the political crisis in Fiji, Krishna didn't pursue the Derby opportunity, wanting to fulfil his New Zealand residency requirements instead.

"Rightly or wrongly," says Dawkins, a little ruefully.

Talks with famous Dutch club PSV Eindhoven somehow fizzled.

Even Waitakere rejected Krishna after Dawkins had left the club.

"Tell Roy to get a job," Dawkins reports them as saying, claiming they "wanted him on the cheap".

With Auckland City having beaten Waitakere for a place in the Club World Cup that year, Krishna switched camps and finally started making serious progress upwards with a fine goal in Morocco.

Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick then signed the 26-year-old Krishna during the 2013-14 season, covering for an injured Ifill. In 113 games since, he has an impressive 43 goals.

But there was another dramatic twist during a tumultuous 2017-18 season under Bosnian coach Darije Kalezić.

Around Christmas, with the Phoenix battling, Dawkins says Kalezić told the squad anyone who didn't want to be there could go.

Former All Whites boss Anthony Hudson wanted Krishna at the Colorado Rapids, where he could make up to $900,000 a season.

Rumours were flying that Krishna was deliberately sitting out games, to avoid triggering a contract clause which entitled the Phoenix to keep him the next season. The Phoenix even flew Krishna to Auckland to get a second opinion on a hamstring injury. Dawkins completely rejects the fake injury theory and Krishna did reach the crucial 15-game mark.

But Krishna took up the Kalezić offer, approaching him for a release. The coach agreed, the management didn't. The Phoenix demanded $1 million for Krishna, the Rapids offered around $250,000. Another Krishna deal gone west.

Dawkins says: "At one point, the coach came in with a Fiji rugby jersey, threw it at Roy and said 'you might as well go and play rugby'. Roy was really upset with that."

The transformation under Rudan couldn't be greater. Player and coach are in a mutual fan club, and football is seeing the very best of Roy Krishna. It means offers will come from other A-League clubs after this final season of his contract, with the potential for more drama.

Through all the ups and downs, Krishna — who would otherwise have followed his father as a sugar cane factory worker — comes across as remarkably philosophical.

"Of course, but that's part of football, part of life," says Krishna, when asked if he was ever dejected by the career knock-backs.

Dawkins says only one incident really bothered the player — when Herbert signed Solomon Islands international Benjamin Totori.

Totori is a mate of Krishna's — they flatted when the Fijian joined Waitakere. Krishna wanted the best for his friend.

But many in football believed Krishna was a superior player to Totori, who failed to find the net in 15 Phoenix appearances.

"Roy was dumbfounded, absolutely stunned," says Dawkins. "It is the one thing which has really upset Roy over the years."

A career of rapidly increasing highlights, which includes a goal against Mexico at the Rio Olympics, will soon involve a stay-or-go decision at the Phoenix.

Team-mate Steven Taylor, an England under-21 player who made nearly 200 appearances for Newcastle in the English Premier League, is among those blown away by Krishna.

"He has pace, power, he is non-stop, he's a team player," says Taylor. "I know the Premier League has moved on from when I played [most recently in 2015-16], but I definitely could see Krishna playing in England.

"He's up for the fight, his goal record speaks for itself. He is two footed, whereas a lot of the strikers I played against over 15 years were one-footed and had a lot of weaknesses.

"Krishna has very, very few weaknesses."

One weakness, however, was a lack of lucky breaks.