Ricky Herbert has resigned as coach of the Phoenix, leaving the Wellington club in order to focus on the All Whites job. Many football observers, such as Danny Hay, have been calling for this for a long time, given that Herbert’s defensive style is suited to the grinding nature of New Zealand international football. It doesn’t suit the Phoenix, a team that needs to entertain in order to draw fans into the cavernous Westpac Stadium. The consortium who own the Phoenix made it very clear that Herbert either needed to change the game plan or get out.
He chose the latter, but it would be a mistake to think that changes at the Phoenix will be revolutionary. Herbert will stay on as a technical advisor to the board, meaning he will still have some direct influence at the club. Chairman Rob Morrison suggested Herbert’s experience and footballing nous are assets that the club cannot afford to lose, this will mean that his views will be taken very seriously and will put pressure on whoever is appointed the manager in his place.
As well as this, in retaining the All Whites role Ricky will continue to exert influence over the Pheonix, as they are the most natural proving ground for New Zealand footballing talent. Herbert’s decisions to instruct, play or bench any Pheonix players that end up in the All Whites will have ramifications for how they then play for the Pheonix. The All Whites naturally play a grinding, pressing defensive game, and given their ranking they are pretty effective at it. Any Phoenix players in the setup will have to adjust to two very contrasting styles of play, in the Consortium’s wishes to see the Phoenix play a possession oriented, Barcelona style of play are realised.
Whether or not Herbert’s influence is a good thing is hotly debated. Some argue that he inspires teams to punch above their weight, and hold better teams down. Others say the success of the All Whites was largely down to Ryan Nelson, and Herbert’s style encourages middling mediocrity. There are some who say that they would rather support a team that leaked goals, under the condition that they scored them too. Regardless of your view on Herbert’s ability, it is undeniable that just because he is no longer coach of the Pheonix, doesn’t mean he isn’t still be hugely powerful within New Zealand football. Expect the Phoenix to continue on their current trajectory for a long time, until they reconcile the fact that they are unable to change their game plan in any meaningful sense with Herbert still pulling the strings.