Time to do things right

Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert

IN all my time as a player and coach, year one with the Wellington Phoenix was undoubtedly one of the highlights.

To think back on what we achieved in such a short period of time still brings a smile to my face. When Terry Serepisos brought me into the fledgling club in April last year, we began with next to nothing. With just a few months before the start of the Hyundai A-League 2007/08 season there were no players, no staff and no infrastructure. We didn-t even have a training base. But we had a dream to build a successful and viable football club, an organisation that would do everyone involved proud. That-s exactly what we achieved.

Now we have the time and resources to take this club to the next level. With a professional management team in place, I have been able to concentrate on the things we need to do to bring success on the field in season two. The benefit of the extra time we have leading into season two has allowed us to make an in-depth appraisal of everything related to our football operation.

Out of that came the need for some tough decisions. Several players who served the club well in season one were let go as we identified key aspects of our game that needed to be addressed. I am grateful to the playing and coaching staff for their professionalism during what was a difficult and stressful period. However, this club is committed to excellence and with that ambition comes the need for tough calls.

Now our focus is now on season two. It-s incredible to think that this time last year we hadn-t even signed most of the squad, let alone begun pre-season training. Already this year we have the majority of the squad in place. We-ve been training for more than a month at our new training base at Newtown Park and the guys are already in great condition thanks to the work of our sports science team, led by the incredible Ed Baranowski, who has previously worked at top-flight English Premier League clubs.

From a recruitment point of view, I-m thrilled with the calibre of players we have brought into the club. It-s clear that Wellington Phoenix FC has established a reputation in a short period of time as a great club to be part of both on and off the field.

Our defence was a problem area last season and to that end we have brought in Andrew Durante, man-of-the-match for Newcastle in this year-s grand final victory, and fellow Australian Jon McKain, who has returned after playing in Romania. Chinese player LeiLei Gao – a player that really impressed me during my stint with the New Zealand Knights – has also signed and will add another dimension to our midfield, which has been further bolstered by the return of Leo Bertos from Perth and the arrival of Troy Hearfield.

The search for two top strikers to complement Shane Smeltz continues. Our bid to land Joel Porter has been well publicised and is continuing, as is our aim to sign a proven Hyundai A-League striker. Rest assured, we will be ready when our 2008 Pre-Season Cup campaign kicks off against the Central Coast Mariners at Westpac Stadium on July 20.

Another aspect that is cause for optimism is the club-s commitment to developing talent in this country. Eleven of the 20 players on our books are Kiwis. We have signed defender Ben Sigmund from Auckland City – proof that there is a professional pathway for Kiwi players to aspire to. We have also hosted several talented young players from throughout the country to give them a taste of a professional environment.

But best of all is the explosion in the popularity of football in the country. It-s heartening for me and everyone else at the club to have played a part in that. Not since the early 1980s has football had such a profile in New Zealand and it-s our goal to drive current levels of interest even higher.

And what of our ambitions this season? Last season it was about getting the infrastructure in place and results were, to a degree, secondary to that aim. This year the bar is set higher. The Hyundai A-League is an incredibly tough competition but with you backing us I-m confident of a much-improved showing this time around.

Members and supporters set the foundations for success and we-re fortunate have the best in the competition. With you behind us we can look forward to a fantastic season.

On behalf of the players and coaching team I thank you for your continued support.