OPINION: It's appropriate Ricki Herbert's 2009 book
was titled A New Fire because he has been trying to
get the blaze under control at the Wellington Phoenix since
being appointed coach in 2007.
This morning it got the better of him and he tendered his
resignation before the board took more drastic action. It
came seemingly out of the blue but, in truth, had been
building for some time.
A football club, any football club, can't sustain such a poor
run of results without something changing. They have won only
five of 22 games this season - only one in 2013 - and have
also been outscored 23-7 over the last nine matches.
Incredibly, they are still a chance of making the playoffs
with five games remaining but that's more a reflection of a
generous playoffs system that sees six of 10 teams progress
than anything else.
Wellington are the only club to reach the playoffs in each of
the past three years but, apart from 2010 when they reached
the preliminary final, have not really threatened. That was
supposed to change this year.
Herbert has now accepted a role as technical advisor to the
board advising them on football matters but what this really
means is unclear. Is he a consultant? Will be work with the
academy? Will he have a say in recruitment? And his presence
would surely be uncomfortable for the next coach.
Chris Greenacre will take over for the remainder of the
season, starting with tomorrow night's visit of Newcastle,
but his inexperience makes him an unlikely option to take
over fulltime. There are some candidates with A-League
experience, including John Kosmina, Ian Ferguson and Miron
Bleiberg, but there will also be a number of applicants from
The Phoenix position would be an attractive one. It's
understood to command a salary well in excess of $250,000
plus bonuses, the A-League has a generous playoffs system and
no relegation and also has relatively short season.
There aren't any realistic options in New Zealand, although
Olympics coach and All Whites assistant Neil Emblen and
Auckland City coach Ramon Tribulietx will surely put their
hands up and former All Whites Gavin Wilkinson, Simon Elliott
and Danny Hay might be tempted to apply.
Herbert will continue to coach the All Whites and a win over
New Caledonia in Dunedin on March 22 will see them move
through to November's playoff against the fourth-placed side
from North and Central America for a spot at next year's
Many have said Herbert has spread his time too thinly between
club and country to the detriment of both - he was also
advisor to the Olympic side - and that he has held too much
power in New Zealand football.
That has now been watered down and it's not a bad thing. He
took the Phoenix as far as he could but it's clear the
players were not responding this season and confidence is
shot as results continued to elude them and everyone grappled
with the concept of playing more attractive football.
But Herbert also had to endure some extremely difficult
times, not least of all when former owner Terry Serepisos
battled bankruptcy and struggled to pay players and coaching
staff including Herbert. He did a good job to keep the team
together when it could have all gone horribly wrong.
Herbert is one of the most divisive individuals in New
Zealand football and has always had his critics, but their
numbers have grown in recent weeks and months. He faced his
first serious challenge to his All Whites job after last
year's failed Oceania Nations Cup campaign in Honiara and has
been fending off criticism since.
He said in a statement his resignation would allow him to
focus more on the All Whites in an important year and that it
was now time for "someone else to take a fresh look at things
at the club".
With nearly half the playing squad off contract at the end of
the season, there will be a number of nervous players who
will wonder if they have a future at the club.
Phoenix captain Andrew Durante is locked in but he found out
about Herbert's resignation on radio this morning. It seems
the fire doesn't always spread to where it should.