“WHO ARE YA? WHO ARE YA? WHO ARE YA?”
Such is the chorus of the Wellington Phoenix ultras group ‘Yellow Fever’ when anyone takes a corner kick from their wedge of Westpac Stadium. Before Alessandro Del Piero’s A-League debut, I advised them via Twitter that repeating this tradition to him might not be the wisest course of action given the circumstances. I copped a fair bit of flak for my trouble at the time. My response to each and every person who called me a miserable git was this: Your funeral.
The chant doesn’t usually bother me that much, I get the irony, but when you chant it at the top of your lungs at one of the greatest footballers ever to lace up his boots when you are by global standards a decidedly average bunch of hackers at the bottom of the football world – you do two things. Firstly, to the international audience watching, whilst you might think you look like a clever and ironic bunch of wits, in actual fact you far more closely resemble a bunch of ignorant hicks. Secondly, you run the serious risk of pissing him off – a very bad career move.
It was always a bit much to expect retaliation in his first ever game down under when he was clearly just feeling his way, although this didn’t stop many New Zealanders from proclaiming him a washed up waste of money as they skipped out of the stadium after the ‘Nix’s 2-0 victory. However while I doubt any Phoenix supporters will acknowledge any cause and effect, I’m absolutely positive that “I’ll show you who I am” was going through his mind as he walked out onto Allianz Stadium in Sydney last night and did this:
Of course that’s not the reason why the Phoenix lost by a record margin to what was until recently the worst team in the league – a title the ‘Nix now hold themselves. Their turnstile defence had a lot to do with it too. But when you are up against a world class player, why would you hand him any more motivation than he already possesses to crush you like a bug? It’s nuts.
I don’t have a great deal of interest in any further dissecting the rapid fall from grace the Phoenix have experienced in the last few months. There has been plenty written about it elsewhere. Except to say this: Scores of people are currently saying that Ricki Herbert is not cutting the mustard at the moment. Agreed. I only have one question though – if we’re ditching him, who are we replacing him with? Pep Guardiola? Oh bugger, Bayern Munich have just snapped him up. Bad luck I guess.
In all seriousness the best we’re likely to get is an Australian manager, and I can’t see that being the answer to our woes. Call me a xenophobe but I’d much prefer us to stick with Ricki. The Phoenix exist for the benefit of New Zealand football as a whole. As such, they should be coached by a kiwi and there is nobody in New Zealand who can do a better job than Ricki Herbert can. There may be a copious amount of people in the country who think they know the game better than him, but I’m not sure a single one of them actually does.
To take the club to the next level, rather than point the accusatory finger at the coach, perhaps we instead need to invest in some different players. It might be that the squad we’ve got is only suited to one particular type of formation or game plan and the other teams have all worked us out. Or it might be that the team’s senior players have heard all Ricki’s speeches too many times and they no longer draw any motivation from them. Either way, it might be better to replace a few players rather than throw away the best coach in the country.
The franchise has reached a defining moment. Until now it has been a great success story in stark contrast to all the other efforts our country has made to compete in the ranks of Australian professional football. How the organisation deals with this, its first real crisis in terms of both results and crowd numbers, will ultimately decide whether or not a vicious spiral of poor form on the pitch drives unsustainable results on the balance sheet.
The name Phoenix was chosen because it symbolises New Zealand professional football rising from the ashes of previous disasters. But in Greek mythology, the phoenix is a symbol of constant renewal, reborn many times in the course of its long lifespan. We should all wish our Phoenix to follow suit.
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.