DEPARTING Wellington Phoenix FC chief executive Tony Pignata says his three years at the helm of the capital-based Hyundai A-League football club have been the most satisfying of his professional career.
The 45-year-old Australian confirmed his resignation today, with the decision forced by a desire to return to Melbourne to be with his family.
“It’s been the toughest decision I’ve had to make, to be honest, but it came to a point where I had to make a decision between the family I love and the job I love, and family always comes first for me,” said Pignata, who joined the club shortly after its inception in 2007 and led the rise of its popularity in Wellington, New Zealand and overseas.
“It’s going to be sad leaving the Phoenix, saying goodbye to the players and staff was very hard for me. Ironically, as a group we-ve become much like a family and it-s been a privilege to have been part of that. But it-s been very difficult being apart from my wife and two sons, who went back to Melbourne six months ago, and it simply became too tough to commute back and forth.
“But I feel as though I’m leaving the Phoenix in a great position, both from a financial point of view and what we can achieve on the field. When we set the Phoenix up it was uncharted waters for all of us.
“I derive huge satisfaction from what we-ve achieved as a club. Before the Phoenix football in New Zealand was in the doldrums somewhat – now our games are attracting massive crowds and we-re getting the results. To have been part of that has been something special.”
Pignata said the Phoenix-s Hyundai A-League 2009/10 campaign had been the highlight of his three years in Wellington.
“Walking around Westpac Stadium when we played the Newcastle Jets in the semifinal was incredible. To see more than 32,000 people cheering the team on – and to get a thrilling win – was outstanding and evidence of just how far the club has come.
“No other New Zealand-based club had ever made the playoffs in the Hyundai A-League – we went within one match of being in the grand final.
“We proved the naysayers wrong on both sides if the Tasman about the standing of football in New Zealand and that-s immensely gratifying.”
Pignata said the Phoenix had a bright future, having recently secured a five-year license extension to participate in the Hyundai A-League as well as the ongoing support of key sponsors, including principal partner Sony.
The New Zealand national team-s qualification for the World Cup had been another significant fillip for the code and the club, with the Phoenix contributing coach Ricki Herbert as well as nine current or former players to the All Whites- South African campaign.
“Certainly the Phoenix has taken a leading role in the explosion in popularity of football in New Zealand and the game – like the club – is in great heart. It hasn-t always been easy, and the sports entertainment market is an extremely competitive one, but all the signs are good for the game in this country locally, nationally and internationally.
“From a club perspective we-re in top shape both on and off the field.”
Pignata paid special tribute to club owner Terry Serepisos.
“Without his vision and commitment, professional football would have been lost in this country. Terry has made enormous sacrifices to make the Phoenix possible and his contribution to the game from both a club and country perspective deserves recognition. What has been achieved in the past three years would not have been possible without him.”
Serepisos returned the praise of his club-s departing chief executive.
“Tony achieved things for the Phoenix that I think only he had the ability, expertise and commitment to deliver. He has worked tirelessly since coming to the club and I know it-s been difficult for him since his wife and sons went back to Australia.
“Everyone is sad to see him leave but we all understand fully his desire to be reunited with his family and we wish him all the best for the future.”