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August 10, 2009 | by  | in News |
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Piecing together the Puzzle: An A‑League preview

Building a squad to compete in the A-League is a bit like assembling a jigsaw. It’s a tricky operation that involves finding the right number and type of players, making sure their wage demands don’t exceed the salary cap, restricting the number of foreign imports and ensuring that you have enough young players to meet the league’s requirements.

When you are the Wellington Phoenix though, it becomes an even harder job, because you have to entice players to Wellington (try selling the ‘character’ of the bucket fountain to someone who could just as easily live and work on the Gold Coast) and explain to them that even if they help the club win the A-League, they will not earn the right to compete in the Asian Champions League.

Then of course, at the end of last season, manager Ricki Herbert lost two of the most important pieces of his jigsaw. Glen Moss and Shane Smeltz were like those pieces with a lovely specific detail on them, you know just where they go and they help you slot the rest into place, but without them, you’ve got a big black hole in your beautiful picture.

On Sunday though, the ‘Nix will kick off their 09/10 A-League season against Newcastle Jets, and with two completed seasons under their belts, expectations will be raised. No longer will we be content to let them off the hook because they’re “still a new team”, because they are not. They have enough experience to put together a successful campaign and that’s exactly what their fans now want and expect —‘not finishing last’ is no longer good enough. Indeed, with their A-League licence up for review after this season, it’s pretty important that the Phoenix make a bit of a splash this time around.

So what new pieces have the club added to complete the jigsaw? Firstly they’ve attempted to address the lack of midfield creativity by bringing in Brazilian-born Diego from Adelaide United, which could be a shrewd acquisition if he can stay off the treatment table. The job of replacing the goals of club legend and last season’s golden boot winner Smeltz falls jointly to Chris Greenacre and Paul Ifill, both veterans of the English lower leagues, with Ifill having also graced the Premiership and an FA Cup Final.

Also signed on are Reece Crowther, a young Australian goalkeeper to challenge Mark Paston for the #1 jersey; and Marco Rojas, a seventeen-year-old winger from Waikato who literally saw his dreams come true when he was signed off the back of a Yellow Fever scholarship; while Chinese U23 international Jiang Chen looks likely to further boost the attacking ranks, joining on loan from Chinese club Tianjin Teda.

It seems like they’ve added a nice balance of youth and experience then, and at least on paper they have added some creativity to complement the familiar defensive line-up that did reasonably well last season.

And to me, that bodes well. While we may not have signed Robbie Fowler and while the Aussie media will continue to write the Phoenix off, I am quietly confident. They may not have assembled the biggest, brightest jigsaw, but the Phoenix may well have created a picture full of complementary colours and even finished off the boring bits around the edge, which means the end result could be far more pleasing on the eye than the brash designs of the Australian glamour clubs.

Of course, we’ll only really know for sure once the action is underway, and it promises to be an exciting season, so I encourage you all to shun swine flu, dose up on Yellow Fever and get down to the Westpac Stadium on 16 August to stand up in support of our boys against those bloody arrogant Aussies.

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  1. Mike says:

    The best thing that I’ve found since moving to Wellington is Wellington Phoenix. Each game is… a PARTY! I lose my voice. Once I thought about biting my nails. (Bad habit…so I didn’t). I’ve met a shed load of new people. I ache when they lose. I feel up for days when they win. I am a FAN!!! :)

  2. Groggy says:

    Shame they didn’t change the coach while they were at it. For a former defender Riki Herbert puts out a shite defensive lineup. As long as they play a flat back four (circa 1970’s football) they will be cut to pieces by other teams as they were all last season. Gotta wonder if Riki was paying any attention when he sat those UEFA coaching badges, cos football has changed a bit since he was playing.

    And after watching Sunday’s debut it would help if the defenders tried marking the opposition instead of each other as well. Maybe it was because the opposition were in yellow and it got our boys confused.

  3. Trina says:

    circa 1970’s football??? Wakey wakey lots of teams still play that way. Two I can think of are Barcelona and Chelsea… Go have a look. They seem to do alright with it.

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