Culture change paying off for Phoenix

A Phoenix fan shows support for team coach Ufuk Talay during their match against Western Sydney...
A Phoenix fan shows support for team coach Ufuk Talay during their match against Western Sydney Wanderers at Westpac Stadium at the weekend. Photo: Getty Images
Seeing two English strikers lead the line for A-League side Wellington warms the heart of Paul Ifill.

Even more stirring to the former club great is how the Phoenix have reclaimed their credibility through a culture change driven by two ambitious Australian coaches.

Sitting fourth and on a club-record tying nine-game unbeaten streak, Ifill marvels at the transformation in Wellington after nearly a decade of forgettable returns since their "golden era".

With Ifill and fellow-English striker Chris Greenacre cutting capers, the Phoenix drew big crowds and reached three successive finals series, from 2010-12.

They never reached a grand final but the period stood out in a 13-year club existence marked by off-field uncertainty and a lack of results.

Under rookie head coach Ufuk Talay, there is a growing sentiment Wellington can establish themselves as a league power.

With a licence now assured in a new league structure, quality players are increasingly attracted to the Kiwi capital.

Several contracts have been extended meaning there won't be the frantic player grab that marked the start of the Mark Rudan and Talay coaching tenures.

"If you look at the situation the club's been in over the last two seasons, it's been a nightmare," Ifill told AAP.

"Thankfully, the club hired two very good coaches who could get the job done.

"Mark did it the year before and recruited really, really well and I think he was great at giving the club its identity back.

"Talay's come in and done it just as well, if not better.

"Kudos to the club for appointing two progressive coaches.

"Talay has improved on the work that Mark started."

Ifill wondered where the goals would come from when ex-Sydney FC assistant Talay announced some unheralded player signings.

The Phoenix lost their first four games but that has ultimately added to Talay's stature, Ifill believes.

"Ufuk must be very good at what he does to get a group to keep believing," he said.

"When it doesn't click, you can get doubters in the team and doubters in the stand and it becomes hard to turn it around.

"But they got a win and it was game on from there.

"Now they look like they could beat anyone in the league."

Ifill has admired the class of nine-goal Mexican schemer Ulises Davila but is also taken by the English frontline of former Celtic star Gary Hooper and the less celebrated David Ball.

Comparisons to the Ifill-Greenacre combination aren't too far wide of the mark, Ifill said.

"It's quite nice actually. David Ball reminds me of Greeny, in the fact that he makes a lot of unselfish runs," he said.

"When Hooper gets fit, Ball's selfless play will get Hooper goals.

"Which is kind of how myself and Greeny went."

Under Rudan, Wellington played on the counter, capitalising on the speed and finishing power of Roy Krishna and David Williams.

That pair joined the season-ending exodus, leaving Talay to overhaul not only the squad but the playing style.

Possession and short passing, a foreign concept in Wellington's existence, is the new way.

Hooper's goal against Central Coast this month said everything about the mindset shift.

All 10 outfield players had a touch in a patient build-up capped off by a ruthless finish, leaving Ifill hungry for more.

"I think they can match it with anybody. When you're on a run like this, you feel pretty much invincible," he said.

"Talay has put his own twist on the Phoenix and certainly the boys are believers and I think the fans are starting to believe.

"They'll think anything is possible now."

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