It's not yet clear when the end will come - and he will hope it is later rather than sooner - but Tim Brown will leave a significant hole at both club and international level when he retires from football at the end of the Phoenix's run in the A-League playoffs.

Brown surprised most this week when he announced he would be retiring from all football at the end of the A-League season to head to Cambridge University. That could have been Friday night, but Wellington beat Sydney 3-2 in a dramatic semifinal and are now awaiting the winners of tonight's match between Perth and Melbourne Heart.

There have been few footballers in this country who have polarised opinion quite as much as Brown. Many have bemoaned the fact he's not the creative force they wanted him to be but that's not his game - he was never capable of that. Instead, he's an abrasive, whole-hearted, box-to-box midfielder who chips in with crucial goals.

This was no better illustrated in the win over Sydney when he scored the game's opening goal - his sixth of the season and 24th of an A-League career that has spanned 121 games.


"Tim will leave a big hole, particularly at the Phoenix," former All White Harry Ngata said. "The one thing he does really well, and he's been compared to players like Tim Cahill, is his ability to score goals from midfield. Looking at the current squad, who would take that role? You would say there isn't one."

It's why Wellington coach Ricki Herbert will go on a shopping excursion to England and South America at the end of April. The club are close to re-signing both Vince Lia and Alex Smith but neither are in Brown's mould, forcing them to look outside.

"We will look for a different type of player, because if we retain Vince Lia and Alex Smith, then we could probably look to play differently," Herbert said. "[I will look for] a creative midfielder, a striker who has pace and plays at the top and I'm quite keen to inject some youth."

The latter part shouldn't be overlooked because, with a number of players on the wrong side of 30 who could all depart around the same time, there needs to be an emphasis on the future. Herbert will consult New Zealand Olympic coach Neil Emblen to get his thoughts on the crop of under-23 players who recently qualified for London.

Brown's departure is less of an issue in the All Whites but it could accelerate a change in formation from 3-4-3 to a more conventional 4-4-2.

Brown wasn't as prolific at international level playing a different role and there are a number of talented, young players who can play centrally such as Michael McGlinchey, Dan Keat and Craig Henderson. Herbert said McGlinchey and Keat are the most likely to be given the first chance to play there in June's World Cup qualifiers but wasn't discounting Michael Boxall, who is normally a defender but who played in midfield as a youngster, especially as none of the others possess the size and strength of Brown.

"Potentially what you could have, is that our side becomes more creative in midfield," Herbert said. "We have a depth of players who play up front and good depth in midfield. That might see a small change with the national team. We have ball playing, technical and quick players through the middle of the park and that's exciting.

"It's not something I had expected to be thinking about at this time [with Brown still around] but there are a lot of players now who could drop in and do a job for us and do it well."

Brown and his Phoenix team-mates have been invited to a barbecue at Paul Ifill's place tonight to watch the Perth Glory-Melbourne Heart play-off.

Ifill, who buried an 86th-minute penalty to send the Wellingtonians through to the second week of the playoffs, said they were desperate to play another home game this season. For that to happen, the Heart need to beat the higher-ranked Glory in Perth.

Wellington (fourth) finished the regular season ahead of the Heart (sixth), meaning the Phoenix earn the right to host the match. "I think we are going to have a Heart party [tonight]," Ifill said. "A barbecue round mine ... and we can be Heart fans for the day. I hope they can do it because there's nothing better than getting a second game here.

"If it's not to be, it's not to be. In the finals you've got to go where you've got to go and, if we have to go to Perth, I don't see why we can't go there and win."