14 Apr 2017

What now for the Phoenix?

5:34 am on 14 April 2017

Sports Call examines - Where it's gone wrong for the Phoenix and perhaps more importantly where it needs to go right.

Paul Thompson.

One of my football coaches had a scathing term to describe players with talent and potential who fell short in pressure situations.

He called them the "nearly men" - players of ability who never quite got there and could not be relied upon when things got tough.

It is a fair summary of the Wellington Phoenix who conclude their disappointing season away against Brisbane Roar on Sunday.

They nearly got there.

They will end up seventh in the A-League, just short of a play-off spot, despite a run of good recent results.

Phoenix fervour

Phoenix fervour Photo: Photosport

The strong finish is flattering. In the past couple of weeks they beat Melbourne Victory, drew with Sydney FC and thrashed the Newcastle Jets. But the run came too late in the season after the pressure was off.

Earlier in the year they had stumbled in critical games against Brisbane, Perth, Melbourne City (badly) and Western Sydney Wanderers (twice). These were the matches they needed to win to reach the play-offs but at the key moments they did not seem as organised, tactically-aware or committed as their opposition.

Nearly men, indeed. And a bit of a nearly club.

The Phoenix are not the weakest side in the league by a long stretch and their tightfistedness ensures that neither are they one of the league's financial basket-cases.

Rob Morrison says he wouldn't do it all again with the Phoenix.

Welnix chair Rob Morrison may need to open the club's wallet to attract the right players. Photo: Photosport

They also have extra travel to contend with and the endless challenges of footing it as a New Zealand team in a very Australian league that at best is indifferent to the fate of football in this country.

But are the Phoenix owners and backers genuinely passionate about creating an exciting, successful football team that brings finals football back to Wellington?

If that's the case, and I fervently hope it is, some things probably need to happen:

Sign a new coach with a clear vision and give him a big broom and a decent budget. While co-coaches Des Buckingham and Chris Greenacre have improved performances somewhat since taking over in January it would be risky to re-appoint them. It would almost guarantee more of the same and signal a lack of ambition.

Re-appointing Des Buckingham and Chris Greenacre would be a risky proposition.

Re-appointing Des Buckingham and Chris Greenacre would be a risky proposition. Photo: Photosport

Use the broom to clear out the playing staff. The club has relied on a cadre of senior players who, whatever their strengths, are past their best and unlikely to change the club's fortunes.

Create a toughness and consistent desire to win that have been lacking since the best times of the Ricki Herbert regime.

Bring Back Ricki?...well at least some of what he stood for.

Bring Back Ricki?...well at least some of what he stood for. Photo: Photosport

Sign a fast, strong proven goal-scorer in his prime.

Then sign another one.

Prioritise the retention of Marco Rossi, Alex Rodriguez, Andrew Durante, Michael McGlinchey, Kosta Barbarouses, Roy Krishna, Matthew Ridenton and Gui Finkler.

Recruit players in their prime, particularly at fullback, attacking midfield and upfront.

Develop a game plan that is tactically astute and adapted to the A-league.

Accept it will take at least two seasons for this strategy to fully bear fruit but make sure the Phoenix at least make the top six next season.