Ricki Herbert was the guest speaker at the second annual Friends of Football lunch at John Kerkhof Park in Cambridge ahead of WaiBOP United’s game against Team Wellington yesterday, and he used the occasion to leave the audience in no doubt as to whether or not he still saw a role for himself in our game at a national level.
“…I’m working hard around the country to hopefully prepare, support, develop, assist the next tier of national team players at some age group, and hopefully… hopefully be able to help in some other directions nationally or whatever but ahhh, I’ve been waiting for that phone to ring. Let’s wait and see…”
He said of his New Zealand football academy “…we’ve got an incredibly strong curriculum that’s come from some pretty good people around the world that are working with arguably some of the best kids in the world so hopefully that transpires to helping the new national coach at some stage have a good crop of players come through.”
On a lighter note, he rated qualifying for the 1982 World Cup in Singapore as the day he would most like to relive, and the Brazilian duo of Zico and Socrates as the best players he had ever played against. He also said that he had benefited greatly from his time away from New Zealand, both working for FIFA’s Technical Study Group at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, and coaching in the Indian Super League – describing his time on the sub-continent as “refreshing” and as he talked about it at length and with great passion it became clear that it was a source of renewed motivation for him. I could see why. He was coaching in the middle of packed stadiums where the crowds can get as high as 120,000. As he told the audience, “Currently it’s the fourth biggest attended league in the world. So EPL, La Liga, Bundesliga, Indian League – every other competition sits behind it.”
But in particular he singled out the information he gained in Brazil, working on a FIFA document circulated to member countries breaking down “statistics and styles and patterns and strengths and weaknesses in players etc.”, as giving him valuable knowledge that could be of use to New Zealand:
“It’s helped from a personal point of view because around some areas in New Zealand now I’m operating my own academy and so that sort of up to date information on preparing young players is pretty much at the forefront for me so I’ve been very lucky to kind of connect with those people and have that information brought back to New Zealand.”
From his experience gained looking carefully at how the game is evolving, he predicted interesting things in store for New Zealanders as we look ahead to hosting the Under 20 World Cup later this year. “You know I always think it will be a sort of evolving opinion on the type of football that’s played and I think traditionally around the world now you’ll probably start to see a combination of a raft of things. It’ll be interesting! I think the Under 20 World Cup – where’s that going to go? What’s that trend going to look like? I think it’ll be a little different than perhaps we’ve seen in the past.”
He talked about building relationships overseas as the most important thing for getting more New Zealand coaches and administrators valuable experience abroad such as that which he has benefited from. “But, I’d like to see a far bigger investment in getting people offshore and even if it was for small periods of time to let them experience what it is like. Because it’s vastly different from what happens here.”
On the 2010 World Cup in South Africa in which he coached New Zealand to an historic performance as the tournament’s only unbeaten side, he rejected any criticism that his tactics were overly defensive:
“…I think it would be easy to say after the three games ‘Ricki [what] would you have done [differently] maybe you could have been more attacking’ and I’m thinking ‘shit, you probably thought we’d go to the World Cup and never get a point or win a game!’ So I think the success kind of built so quickly that people then expected it to be even bigger and better. And I’m not sure it could have been any bigger and better.”
“…I was with a couple of media guys, I won’t mention the names, and they were talking about the side being quite defensive and I said ‘well, Shane Smeltz, Rory Fallon and Chris Killen played up front in all those three games’. I’m not sure that three out and out strikers have played in a World Cup campaign for New Zealand. Three out and out strikers. I mean, those three don’t have a defensive ounce in them at all, but their contribution to the front line of defending was incredibly good. But they are three number nines! If you are looking at in relative football so I’m thinking ‘I don’t see that as being defensive at all’. I see that as being incredibly attacking to… not take the gamble because I trusted those players to actually formulate and do things well at the front from a defending point of view.”
He also had some kind words to say about his old club, the Wellington Phoenix, from which he left under a bit of a cloud of “did he go or was he pushed” as there seemed to be a difference of views about the direction of the team with co-owner Gareth Morgan. On the surface at least there appear to be no hard feelings:
“But I think you’ve got to be impressed now with what’s happening at the Phoenix. It’s stable, it’s solid, they’re doing well. I think the best thing that’s happening now is, and it should have happened six years ago but for six years it kept getting turned down, is that there’s an opportunity for young players to play somewhere. People have an opinion whether it’s the ASB Premiership or not, but at the moment it is the ASB Premiership and they’ve got an academy. For the first six years for me at the Phoenix a player like Kosta, Marco, couldn’t play anywhere. There was nowhere for them to play.”
But he did pour cold water on any suggestion that Auckland could host a second A-League franchise in New Zealand:
“Ahh… I don’t think so. And I’m not sure they’ll be allowed to…….. Will it get supported?”
And while it was a fairly guarded talk by and large, he did take a little swing at the direction of New Zealand’s premiere men’s football league and how that could bite New Zealand Football on the bum down the track…
“But I think, I mean Auckland, Waitakere, I’ll be honest there’s a lot of foreign players playing and I’m thinking at the end of the day maybe that’ll have a consequence on what happens internationally. Maybe. In Australia I think they think differently because they’ll decrease the volume of overseas players and when you have an academy you’ve got to be an Australian resident. So the long term thinking of if you go into Asia, and you’ve seen the consequences it’s been for the young teams for Australia, that they’ve hardly qualified for anything. The senior team is surviving. But ultimately the A-League is a strong catalyst to produce international talent. Hopefully there’s thinking long term in New Zealand about having competitions that could produce international talent.”
Last but not least, he seemed to have a buck each way on whether or not New Zealand should leave the Oceania Football Confederation and join Australia in Asia…
“But then you’re talking about ‘is that going to stop you going to a World Cup?’ So what’s the best pathway, do you actually spend time and invest time because the interesting thing for Australia will be all those young teams that have failed to qualify, are they actually going to produce talent that when Tim Cahill retires and Joe Bloggs retires, is that Australian team going to be good enough to continue to go to the World Cup? I’m not sure. Because it will only come from here and if they are failing every time and missing every hurdle and, I don’t know, hypothetically we’re in Asia and we never qualify for anything in the 17s and the 20s or we don’t go to the Olympics or whatever and we stop producing players in our own country and we don’t invest in players playing in the ASB Premiership and nothing keeps evolving… then I’m not sure the national team will go anywhere. Maybe by then you are picking eleven players abroad.”
“Ideally, New Zealand, you are playing in Asia, you’re playing all the big countries, there’s great television coverage, financially the game is benefiting from it, you know there is a lot of positives around that. A lot of positives. Depends whether you want to say ‘hey let’s stay in Oceania, might be a window, we might draw the fifth placed team in Asia, we might qualify for the World Cup, that’ll do us – we’ll take that’.
Not sure I would…”
If you happen to have a bit of time on your hands, you can read the full transcript here:
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.