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Calm at last for the Phoenix?

by Paddy Higgs on Nov 20, 2011

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Money does not buy happiness, but good news has hardly been a luxury since the Wellington Phoenix's financial woes began.

Former chairman Terry Serepisos did all he could to hang on to the club he loved, searching for funds from Switzerland to Bahrain. His efforts inevitably proved fruitless, and he ceded control to a Wellington consortium in September.

If there was one final criticism, even despite his best intentions, it was that Serepisos held on too long. It meant the off-field tumult trickled down to on-field matters for the Phoenix.

While rival A-League clubs spent the pre-season shaping squads to pick up the gauntlet laid down by champions Brisbane Roar, the Phoenix were left to prepare with just enough players to fill a starting XI, let alone a 23-man squad.

The club began the season with a rag-tag squad scattered with journeyman and castoffs from other A-League clubs, having been unable to meet the terms of pedigreed front men Billy Mehmet (now at Perth Glory) and Maceo Rigters (Gold Coast United).

Injuries have also played their part; Lucas Pantelis will have to wait until next campaign to make his debut for the Phoenix after suffering a season-ending knee injury, striker Mirjan Pavlovic broke his arm and key man Paul Ifill is yet to start a game.

Finally, however, the Phoenix has a signing over which to cheer - even if he'll fail to kick a ball this campaign.

Coach Ricki Herbert penned a new deal last Friday to keep him at the helm until at least the 2012-13 campaign, with a two-year option for the 50-year-old to stay at the club in 'football-related matters' after that.

It was perhaps no coincidence that, two days after the announcement on Herbert, the Phoenix held out for a 1-1 draw in Brisbane against the Roar. It was a typically determined performance from Phoenix under their typically determined coach.

Herbert may have the kindly, rosy cheeked appearance of a favourite uncle, but five minutes with the coach reveal a deliberate, driven man with rhino-tough hide.

Still, the perception of Herbert, who holds a dual role as New Zealand manager, varies somewhat on each side of the Tasman Sea.

Many in Australia would praise the job Herbert has done - often against the odds - in developing the Phoenix into a competitive club worthy of challenging for A-League finals.
The inability of New Zealand Knights to compete in the two seasons before their succession by the Phoenix is still well remembered, while it was impossible not be swept up in fairytale run of Herbert's men to the 2009-10 preliminary final.

The reaction to Herbert's re-signing has been rather more mixed in New Zealand, with some media outlets pointing to the manager's less-than complimentary overall record; of 108 games, Herbert has won 36, drawn 27 and lost 45.

They also allude to the Phoenix's questionable transfer dealings under Herbert. Toto, David Mulligan, Leilei Gao and Diego all struggled to make an impact under Herbert, while home-grown attacking talents Kosta Barbarouses and Marco Rojas left the club for greener pastures.

But regardless of the perception of Herbert's tenure, the Phoenix needs stability after a forgettable six months.

Herbert's new deal will do plenty for that. Having stayed with the Phoenix after being linked with a move elsewhere following New Zealand's laudable performances at the 2010 World Cup, the new deal is also a good reward for his loyalty.

Phoenix fans should enjoy the good news; hopefully, with a semblance of tranquility returning to the club, it will not end here.