It’s hard to put a positive spin on finishing bottom of the Hyundai A-League, but Wellington Phoenix general manager David Dome gives it his best shot.
It’s hard to put a positive spin on finishing bottom of the Hyundai A-League and seeing your foundation coach resign late in the season, but Wellington Phoenix general manager David Dome is giving it his best shot.
The Phoenix won just seven matches in a horror season where they conceded 49 goals and scored just 31, something Dome admits was “disappointing”.
The playing style became a massive area of conjecture as the losses mounted and it became clear that many of the current crop of players weren’t cut out to play the total football owners Welnix wanted.
That period mid-season ultimately cost the Phoenix a chance of making the playoffs for the fourth successive season and resulted in Herbert’s resignation with five games of the campaign to go.
But rather than dwelling on the negatives, Dome believes this has presented the club with the perfect opportunity to rebuild themselves in a slightly different mould under a new head coach – when one is appointed.
“Not winning games is something you certainly don’t want to bring on yourself so that you can make change,” said Dome.
“It’s hard to look back in hindsight and say ‘We should have done that sooner’, or ‘It would have been good if that had happened at the beginning of the season or halfway through the season’ because that’s just the way it is.
“Things unravel the way they do unravel.
“It was something that happened at that stage in the season.
“But it’s enabled us to take a hard look at ourselves and say ‘Where exactly do we want to go now as a club? What do we stand for? What sort of club do we want to be?’
“Ricki’s resignation towards the end of the season has forced all of that on us but it’s given us a very, very positive opportunity.”
A new head coach
The club received around 300 applications but that has been whittled down to a short-list and Dome said they were now in the early stages of ‘talking to people’.
Former Real Madrid and Mexico striker Hugo Sanchez is the most high-profile person to be linked with the job but former Phoenix assistant Luciano Trani, Central Coast assistant Phil Moss and New Zealand Under-20s coach Chris Milicich are also believed to have applied.
Dome hopes to have the appointment made this month.
“We need to make a decision on the head coach because there’s all sorts of things with players coming off contract and signing new players and a lot of our academy stuff is tied in with who our head coach is going to be as well.
“We do understand there is a pressure on us to get our head coach so we can start moving on some of these areas.
“But, having said that, we do want to take time and make sure we do it right.
“We’re not going to force ourselves into a decision. We’re going to make sure we get the right person because it’s absolutely crucial.
“It’s probably the biggest decision we’re going to make since Ricki was appointed in the very first season.
“We need to get it right.”
The head coach requirements
“We’re looking at a person who is going to work to a style that the club is confident with and that style that we said we want to play to,” said Dome.
“They also have to be able to take on the development role within the club so they can oversee our academy programme and help bring youth players through.
“They’ve obviously have got to be very good in terms of the culture within the club.
“They have to sit within the culture of the club and be the right fit for us.
“Predominately it’s a football culture and it has to be one of there is no one person bigger than the team.
“We are essentially a family based club and we want that to continue and we want to be very community focused.
“The new coach coming in has to understand all of that.”
How the side plays was one of the most discussed aspects of this season. The Phoenix have traditionally been a hard-working team that are difficult to breakdown and who tend to strike on the counter-attack.
The attempt to switch mid-season to a more free-flowing, attacking, play out from the back type game didn’t work as the players struggled to adapt to a system and game-plan that was foreign to them and were ruthlessly exposed – particularly in the 7-1 loss to Sydney and 5-0 defeat to Central Coast.
That desire to change has not gone away – although it seems the owners and management may not be quite as vocal on the subject in the future.
“The club has said we want to play a brand of football that people will want to come and watch,” Dome explained.
“What exactly that looks like is not the domain of management or administration, that’s the domain of the head coach.
“We’re going to give him the broad framework which says this is the kind of club we want to be.
“At the detail level, the playing on the field level, we need to be able to pass that over to the coach and say ‘Right, you’ve got the direction, you’ve got the overall club strategy, you go and interpret what that means on the field’.”
Chairman Rob Morrison prefers to remain out of the limelight but co-owner Gareth Morgan caused plenty of anger amongst the Phoenix fans this year when he branded them “pathetic” for not seeing the “bigger picture” and wanting immediate results on the pitch when the team was struggling mid-season.
Dome was reluctant to criticise Morgan – given the Welnix consortium stepped in to save the club when previous owner Terry Serepisos’ financial problems finally sank him.
“Someone like Gareth is extremely passionate in what he does. He’s the driving force behind the academy programme which is the future of the club,” said Dome.
“We don’t want to restrict the owners on what they bring to the table for the club.
“Gareth has got his own strong opinions. As an owner he is entitled to have an opinion.
“I think, in hindsight though, everyone has learned a little bit.
“This is the first full season the owners have been involved and there’s no doubt everyone has learned a lot from this particular season.”
After the appointment of a new head coach, recruitment is the next most important one and the club must get it right if they are to turn around their fortunes.
But until the coach is on board those coming off contract – Tony Lochhead, Leo Bertos, Dani Sanchez, Benjamin Totori, Ian Hogg, Alex Smith and Stuart Downey – are in limbo, as are youngsters like goalkeeper Scott Basalaj and defender Luke Rowe, who are members of the Phoenix’s football school of excellence.
Mark Paston’s retirement means there is a vacant goalkeeping slot, while Rowe has started two games for the Phoenix this season.
Carlos Hernandez is the only confirmed new signing for next season and that is how it will remain until the head coach is appointed.
Defence and midfield are the obvious areas that need strengthening.
“What we want to do is give the incoming head coach as much flexibility as possible to bring in his own players,” Dome said.
But he is aware any delays in that appointment will have a knock-on effect in recruitment.
“We are conscious of it. But the idea is that we’re going to move on the head coach as fast as we can and we can’t move any faster than we are without making mistakes,” he added.
“We want to make sure we get absolutely the right person because it is the most important appointment the club will make since we started. We want to get it right.
“Does that mean we might miss out on players? Potentially, but hopefully not.
“Hopefully the new coach coming in will at least be able to say ‘Well we missed out on that player but I’ve got this contact here which can get us a player who is at least as good’. That’s the trade-off that we’ve made.”
Dome and the owners believe the long-term future of the club is tied to providing a pathway for New Zealand’s young players to succeed.
The club already has the Football School of Excellence and has formed close ties with local club Team Wellington.
It plans to establish Phoenix academies throughout New Zealand where footballers aged from about 12 to 16 can learn the skills required to succeed at A-League level and beyond.
“We need to have a presence throughout New Zealand,” said Dome.
“We’ve got to build some associations and relationships with good football people around New Zealand and have a pathway where good, promising kids and youth can go to these academies or centres of excellence throughout New Zealand.
“We will overseas those with our partners in those areas and then we’ll look to bring them from wherever they are to Wellington when it comes to the Football School of Excellence.
“What it’s designed to do is increase the technical ability of New Zealand players.
“It’s a model the English have identified … and we want to follow that model and introduce academies that will train players at a very high technical level.
“The idea is that when they come out of the academies they’ll be better quality players for us and for potentially any other A-League player where there’s not a place for them at the Phoenix.”