Wellington Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick has continued his planning for next season with the announcement today that Spanish midfielder Albert Riera and defender Michael Boxall have had their contracts extended by a year.
Since joining the Phoenix from Auckland City Riera has been a revelation in the defensive midfield role, while Boxall has been proving his versatility in the back four by turning his hand to fullback.
Riera, 30, was originally told he was being signed as midfield back up but soon found himself in the starting line-up.
“I was quite happy to come to the club as back up because I knew it would give me the chance to show what I was capable of and to fight for a starting spot,” Riera said.
“I was surprised to go straight in but I am enjoying it and that is down to Ernie.
“He is so positive and talks to players a lot. In one game we were really struggling in the first half and thought we would be told off at halftime.
“Instead he came in and told us to start smiling and to enjoy ourselves.
“He is a top-class coach and a top-class person.”
Boxall, 25, would agree with Riera-s summation as Merrick has given the defender a new lease on life.
Last season Boxall rarely got a look in, and while it was disappointing the player accepts he wasn’t totally blameless.
“My mind set has changed a lot from last season,” Boxall says with refreshing honesty.
“I have put in more work and it is good to see it paying off and people paying attention to it.
“I had a conversation with Ernie about where the club is heading and where he sees me fitting in and I liked what he said.
“The change of coach seems to have done me a world of good.”
A central defender, Boxall has had to play in the unfamiliar role of fullback in recent games but is adjusting well and keen to continue.
“With the players around me, and Ernie guiding me, I think I can do the job he wants,” Boxall said.