Phoenix look to the future

Wellington Phoenix have often been criticised for using New Zealand players sparingly, so it’s great to see the club embracing a development pathway.

Wellington Phoenix have often been criticised for using New Zealand players sparingly, maybe for PR reasons, so it-s great to see the club finally embracing a development pathway.

The fact is, Phoenix have a difficult process to manage, which means it has always been hard for them to get the balance of their squad right.

The A-League rule that states New Zealanders without dual Australian citizenship count as foreigners for Australian-based A-League clubs – meaning former players such as Dave Mulligan, Jeremy Christie, Sean Lovemore, Steven Old, Jacob Spoonley and Greg Draper – has often seen Phoenix put in the difficult position of being an incubator for national team players in limbo.

This is also complicated by Ricki Herbert-s dual role as club and national team coach, as he struggles to balance the occasionally competing priorities of his two employers.

However, critics fail to see the positives that Phoenix-s unique position in the A-League can offer, not to just to the club but to New Zealand football as a whole.

It should be remembered that without an New Zealand team in the competition, there would be no pathway at all for young Kiwi players to break into the professional game within their own country, and that would be a travesty for a nation that has produced such talent as Wynton Rufer and Ryan Nelsen, players of Bundesliga and English Premier League quality respectively.

The recent launch of the Phoenix Football School of Excellence reaped almost immediate dividends when the team was decimated in Round 2 due to national team call-ups for the World Cup qualification games against Tahiti, giving Luke Rowe and Tom Biss (fellow Academy player Scott Basalaj would also have started but for illness) the opportunity to make their senior debuts.

If a country of merely 4.5 million where the primary sport of rugby union has also religion-like status, can produce a Kosta Barbarouses, Marcos Rojas or more recently Louis Fenton every few years through the Phoenix academy and ultimately their first -team, everyone involved in the initiative should be congratulated.

Would these young players have emerged as the shining talents that they now are if they had not been able to use Phoenix as a stepping stones to a bigger audience?

It-s highly unlikely the likes of Team Wellington, Miramar Rangers and Waikato FC would have provided the same level of coaching expertise, quality opposition and national exposure that Wellington Phoenix have done.

The views in this article are those of the author, and do not represent those of Football Federation Australia or the Hyundai A-League.