COMMENT

We knew, didn't we?

We knew Mark Rudan was probably going to go.

As much as many hoped rumours the distance between he and his family being a deal-breaker was just speculation, it was confirmed by the club today that his tenure as Wellington Phoenix coach would be just one season long.

Advertisement

Those who have tried to poke holes in Rudan's refusal to live away from his family, trotting out the rationale that he "knew what he was getting into", should have a crack at being apart from the people nearest and dearest to then for an extended period and perhaps then re-form an opinion.

Much as it might suit your desire to be outraged, it's a real thing. Mark Rudan misses his family – it's really as simple as that.

There's also been plenty of angst about Rudan's next destination. He's been heavily linked with the A-League's next expansion franchise, Western United, based in Melbourne.

Some have pointed out his family is in Sydney, so this doesn't address the reason he's left Wellington. My understanding is a family move from Sydney to Melbourne is feasible where a move to a different country was not.

And who are we to argue?

The Rudans are living their lives, just as we live ours, making the best decisions for our loved ones and bearing the consequences of those decisions. And did we really expect Mark Rudan to stay dormant? Having scratched his professional coaching itch, he was always going to end up somewhere if it wasn't going to be Wellington.

There have been some distinctly different reactions to this news. One is that Mark Rudan has taken the club, its owners and fans for a ride, committing to two years when he never had any intention of staying that long, thus using the Phoenix as a stepping stone for his own coaching ambitions.

Let's just consider that for a second. Rudan had significantly more to lose than gain by coming to Wellington. He inherited a squad as low on morale as any in the history of the Phoenix, decimated by their previous coach. It was a mix of A-League journeymen, untested imports and players who hadn't consistently delivered on their promise. Meantime, the threat of A-League expulsion hung like a dark cloud over the heads of the backroom staff and front office.

Rudan – without any experience at this level, remember – could easily have been a complete flop and dealt a self-inflicted body-blow to his own coaching ambitions. Instead, he's turned the Phoenix into a playoff side and in the eyes of many the most attractive team ever to wear the shirt.

How he's done it has been widely documented and marveled at, but what needs to be remembered is that it was totally unexpected back in September.

The Phoenix in the playoff hunt? Get serious. Wooden-spooners, more like.

Rudan, confident by nature, probably backed himself to engineer a turnaround in the club's fortunes, but it was certainly no foregone conclusion. And any personal boost he's gained from being Phoenix coach has been of at least as much benefit to the club itself who are back in the playoff picture for the first time in four long, often uninspiring seasons.

Wellington Phoenix head coach Mark Rudan. Photo / Getty
Wellington Phoenix head coach Mark Rudan. Photo / Getty

Those criticising this latest turn of events seem to have conveniently forgotten what Rudan has done for their club.

If a footballing genie had magically appeared from a bottle in Aisle 23 at Westpac Stadium on the opening day of the season and offered fans a place in the playoffs, members of Yellow Fever couldn't have torn their shirts off quickly enough in celebration.

And that wish has been granted.

One thing this saga has also done is confirmed yet again the negativity that abounds in sport and football seems to be as bad for it as any. Make no mistake about it; there are those in the football community who will now be waiting for the Phoenix to fall at the first finals hurdle so their narrative can play out to their breathless delight.

That's fine – everyone is entitled to their opinion – but the fact remains the Phoenix will play A-League football in May when they haven't managed that since the autumn of 2015. An inability to enjoy that is something I won't even try to comprehend.

Could the timing of this announcement have been better? Almost certainly. The longer doubt has lingered and rumours have swirled, the more the focus has shifted from on-field to off-field matters.

By way of contrast, Adelaide United announced they'd be parting ways with their coach Marco Kurz in mid-March and haven't lost a game since. They beat Wellington last weekend and currently occupy the fourth spot so coveted by the Nix.

Rudan himself will probably admit it would have been better if this was all dealt with much earlier. He grew tired of deflecting the inevitable (and understandable) questions about his future in media sessions and will be relieved he doesn't have to do that anymore.

And as much as the players have always said they were unaffected by it, they're human like you and me. Humans are inquisitive by nature and keen to know what any change in circumstances will mean for them.

At least now, the worst kept secret in the A-League is out. And what of life at Wellington Phoenix FC now, beyond Mark Rudan's departure?

Some would have you believe it's a bleak, barren landscape littered with broken promises and shattered dreams. In fact, the framework and structures have now been put in place for ongoing success at the club - players won't lose their ability to excel just because a coach leaves.

Yes, most have responded superbly under Rudan's guidance, but what would it say about them if they weren't able to continue to perform under somebody else? Coaches come and go, just as players do, some leave a trail of destruction in their wake while others put foundations in place for the next one to build on.

The football club Rudan found has been improved immeasurably by his presence and for that, fans should be extremely grateful. But there should also be a degree of optimism that whoever takes over can stamp their own mark on the playing group and continue the good work done by their predecessor.

And one more thing - Phoenix fans need to remember to enjoy the current ride while it's happening. They have finals football to look forward to and a team they can be proud of. Whatever happens beyond May will happen, forget that - enjoy the present. Drink it in. Live in the now.

And even if you have to do it grudgingly, at the very least give a nod of thanks to the man who turned things around.