As the Wellington Phoenix continue their quest for A-League finals football, doubt swirls around coach Mark Rudan's future at the club beyond his breakthrough first season.

When Rudan arrived, the club was at the lowest ebb in its 11-year history. The players had been destroyed by previous coach Darije Kalezic. Many had left and those who remained were bereft of confidence and belief. Meanwhile, the office staff trudged into work with an air of resignation. The football club may as well have been on death row.

Rudan has changed all that. He's overseen a complete transformation in culture and attitude, not just in the playing group, but right across the organisation. He has turned the club 180 degrees.

Walk into training now and there's a buzz; loud and regular laughter mixed with a steely resolve and commitment to complete a strict daily regime.


The coaching staff strives for excellence, excited to be part of the renaissance. The football department works long into the night to secure signings and give the players every possible advantage.

The office seems lighter in hue, brightened by the influence of the coach and the employees' newfound enthusiasm for their roles. They're now proud to pick up the phone and say they're part of the football club.

Rudan's passion for Wellington Phoenix FC isn't a facade or an act for the cameras. It's clear he's grown extremely fond of the club, its players, staff and fans.

He also cares deeply about football in New Zealand and in a very short time has had a tremendously positive impact on the game here. He understands the role the Phoenix has to play in football in our country and has completely bought into that.

He's enhanced the fledgling careers of kiwi teens Sarpreet Singh and Liberato Cacace. He's reinvigorated Louis Fenton. He's completely resurrected Alex Rufer.

And it's not just the home-grown guys.

Wellington Phoenix's coach Mark Rudan celebrates the win during the Hyundai A-League 2018/19 game between Wellington Phoenix v Brisbane Roar. Photo /
Wellington Phoenix's coach Mark Rudan celebrates the win during the Hyundai A-League 2018/19 game between Wellington Phoenix v Brisbane Roar. Photo /

Rudan challenged Roy Krishna to have his best season ever. The Fijian is now a contender for the Johnny Warren Medal.

He has David Williams, a veteran of over 150 A-League games, running around like a kid on trial.


He's influenced Steven Taylor, who's played over 200 English Premier League games, in a way no other coach in his long career has.

And he's revitalised skipper Andrew Durante so much that he may yet play on into his 38th year.

All of this would be irrelevant if the side wasn't performing on the grass. But they are. Boy, they are.

Finals football is close enough to touch. Points are being gathered at an almost unprecedented rate. The Phoenix have won countless admirers both here and – remarkably – also in Australia where every single pundit picked them for the wooden spoon in their pre-season predictions.

Now, no team goes into a game against Wellington with anything other than the quite accurate expectation of a very, very tough encounter.

Mark Rudan hasn't just been a breath of fresh air at the Phoenix. He's been an absolute game-changer.

But this is only sport. It's not real life. Family is real life. And family might ultimately be what takes Rudan away.

Because while his football whanau is in Wellington, his flesh and blood are back across the Tasman. I find it hard to imagine being away from my kids for more than a couple of nights. Rudan is lucky if he sees his once a month. He's admitted that had he known how hard being away from his wife and children was going to be, he probably wouldn't have taken the job.

If his kids were a bit older, this might be easier. They'd be off living their own lives and less dependent on their dad. If they were toddlers, the family could perhaps relocate to Wellington with minimum disruption.

But the younger members of the Rudan clan are teenagers, firmly entrenched in schools and within peer groups. They've got mates. They might even have partners. They're at a crucial stage of their burgeoning lives. They need their father around right now, but uprooting them would be selfish. And Mark Rudan is not a selfish man.

This decision might well be one which keeps him up at night, gazing into the Wellington sky from the balcony of his downtown apartment, weighing up the pros and cons. As with all decisions of this type, there's no right option, no cut and dried correct path. Either way, someone will miss out. Phoenix fans would dearly love him to stay. But his family – proud as they surely are of what he's achieved – must miss him dreadfully, as he does them.

At some point soon, he'll decide one way or the other, if only to stop the endless questions being asked. And if that call is to depart, even the most cold-hearted and cynical Nix fans will surely understand the rationale.

And if it is to be "one and done", then that's actually OK. It really is. Because his impact on the club has been so immense that it's almost immeasurable. He arrived just when he was needed most and transformed the club beyond recognition. He saved Wellington Phoenix.

So don't be too disappointed if Mark Rudan leaves. Just be grateful he came at all.