12 Jan 2019

Phoenix coach must take credit for the club's turnaround

11:58 am on 12 January 2019

Sports call - RNZ editor-in-chief and Phoenix die-hard Paul Thompson looks at what is behind the Wellington Phoenix's seven-game unbeaten run.

Phoenix's David Williams celebrates a goal with team mates.

Phoenix's David Williams celebrates a goal with team mates. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The Wellington Phoenix's turnaround has been remarkable.

It is still early in the season, and of course they haven't yet even come close to winning anything, but the club is finally on track after years of drift.

They have rediscovered self respect and belief.

The reason for this is simple - the new coach Mark Rudan.

He is relatively inexperienced and is in his first season coaching at this level, but you wouldn't know it. Rudan's focus and drive have transformed a ramshackle side into a genuine top-four contender.

He also has courage. He has stuck with his 5-2-3 formation - with three centrebacks flanked by pacy wingbacks - despite an uneven start to the season and it is working.

It is not always pretty. The team play a lot of long balls, particularly away from home. But it is effective and hard to combat and they sit one point off the top four with more than half of the regular season to go.

Most of his signings have thrived, particularly new keeper Filip Kurto and defender Steven Taylor. Taylor's experience and toughness have strengthened the spine of the team.

I have been even more impressed by the improvement in long-standing Phoenix players. Louis Fenton is having his best season, Tom Doyle has found consistency and has stopped giving the ball away, and Roy Krishna has arguably been the top player in the league so far this season.

Liberato Cacace, Alex Rufer and Sarpreet Singh are outstanding young players. Singh has the potential to be the best New Zealand player since Wynton Rufer.

Phoenix's coach Mark Rudan.

Wellington Phoenix coach Mark Rudan has breathed new life into the club. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Rudan combines two essential coaching qualities. He sets high standards that every player has to meet. The base requirement is that they put the effort in for 90 minutes and never give up. This hasn't always been the case at the club.

But Rudan is also warm and supportive with a human touch. He showed this last week when midfielder Mandi was sent off for violent conduct against Adelaide United.

Rudan would have been appalled by the player's ill-discipline but nevertheless shook his hand and appeared to reassure him as he left the field.

Phoenix fans will be dreaming of glory this season. That is probably premature. This is a tough league to win and home advantage in the playoffs and finals experience will be pivotal.

The team will make the playoffs and may even be in the top four but are not yet quite good or seasoned enough to win the title.

Rudan will disagree and, who knows, he just might be proved right.