Football: Time for recruiting campaign

Rab Smith.
Rab Smith.
Otago United has completed another difficult season, winning just two of its 14 games in the ASB Premiership. Long-serving Otago Daily Times football writer Rab Smith offers his thoughts on the campaign and the future.

Otago United continued its downward slip this season. In the past three years, it has dropped from fifth in 2010-11, to sixth in 2011-12 and seventh in 2012-13.

Within that decline there have been moments of optimism but, apart from some individual performances in some games, it's been hard to enjoy a season that earned only two wins, and did not produce a single win at home for Dunedin spectators to enjoy.

There were significant player losses - Harley Rodeka and Tristan Prattley headed north - and the leg fracture that finished striker Aaron Burgess' season did not help. Those major happenings were closely followed by a string of injuries to many squad members.

Even Otago's emerging star, Joel Stevens, matched the ups and downs of his team. He made the Junior All Whites team for the Oceania championship in Fiji, yet was absent towards the end due to a shoulder injury that might have cost him his national shirt.

If history is repeated, Stevens also will follow the well-worn path northwards, to better his football career. The drain just worsens Otago's depth of players and, unless something positive is done to recruit some experience, it is likely Otago's downward spiral will continue.

Craig Ferguson is a good example of an experienced, tough and skilful player who can improve the emerging youngsters around him. He was recruited by Southland, along with Barry Gardiner, and both Scots have performed well.

Gardiner is now a staff coach in Invercargill, which has former All White Ken Cresswell coaching, and some years ago imported John Herdman, who went on to become New Zealand director of football before moving to Canada, where he is the national women's coach. Otago has been less proactive. Only Caversham, locally, has attracted some top players to give balance to that club's youngsters, and has enjoyed success in Footballsouth competitions.

The Otago United team is full of promise, but a theme has emerged of conceding early goals - sometimes in bunches. Then, when there is no alternative, Otago plays its best football, chasing the game, and sometimes playing in exciting fashion, only to eventually concede more goals as the team pushes forward.

Regan Coldicott's six goals this season made him a threat, which the opposition soon recognised and nullified. During the past three years, Otago has scored an average of 15 goals, barely more than one per game in the 14-round ASB Premiership. The team conceded 40 goals this season, an average of nearly three per game.

So Otago has two choices. It can sit on its hands, and hope for the odd good player to turn up - probably a scarfie heading south - or it can launch a serious recruiting campaign towards the UK, or Australia, or even in Auckland, where there are more players than teams available.

We may have to run hard to stand still in the South, but now it's time to generate a sprint, or else.