The future of long-time Wellington Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert has been in doubt amid his side's poor run of form, but the club's board is firmly behind him
|By EMMA STONEY
Wellington Phoenix chairman Rob Morrison has put his support behind under-pressure coach Ricki Herbert.
Herbert was asked after his side's heavy 7-1 defeat to Sydney FC on Saturday whether he felt he had the backing of owners, the Welnix consortium, to get the club out of their current predicament.
The coach suggested the reporter direct that question to the owners but that he was keen to remain in his role.
When asked on Wednesday whether Herbert was the right man for the job, a frustrated Morrison responded: "What question is that? If he wasn't he wouldn't be the coach. Of course we think he can do it. Absolutely [we back him]."
It has been a disappointing and turbulent few weeks for Wellington, who have just one win from their past eight games and suffered their worst ever defeat last Saturday.
It has left them stranded at the bottom of the A-League table and five points off the top six.
"Well clearly to be bottom of the table we're disappointed, no question about that," said Morrison.
"It's not where we want to be. It's not where any club would want to be. We certainly want to get off the bottom of the table and get back into playoff contention."
The Phoenix's struggles on the pitch have been all too obvious. The once rock-solid defence has sprung severe leaks – they have conceded 13 goals in their last four losses alone – and up front the strikers are failing to find the back of the net despite creating a wealth of chances.
Ben Sigmund's consolation header against Sydney was the first goal for the Phoenix since Jeremy Brockie's wonder-strike on New Year's Day.
Evidence points to the team's change to a more attacking style midway through December as the root cause of the slump.
The Phoenix have become known as a hard-working side that are hard to break down and like to hit teams on the counter-attack and the players have struggled to adapt to the possession-based, free-flowing game-plan which has resulted in a big drop in confidence as the defeats have mounted.
Why that change came about when it did has been the subject of much debate and confusion.
Gareth Morgan, a member of the Welnix consortium, was very vocal about his desire to see the club play a more entertaining brand of football – and that the club would hire coaches that delivered that - shortly before the switch in tactics took place.
Herbert also said after the loss to Western Sydney in Wellington on January 13 that they would be persisting with the new style of play.
"We're not going to change. That directive has been put out there. I've been very supportive of that. We've just got to get better at it."
Morrison however, explained that the 'total football' vision is a collaborative one with the coach and that during the discussions with Herbert, the owners and board about the direction the club wants to take it was always seen as part of a three-to-five year plan.
That plan will include the establishing of academies, the continuation of the football school of excellence and coaching programmes and strategies to bring players through those systems into the Phoenix squad.
"There was no directive about the way the team plays," stressed Morrison.
"What we looked at was setting an overall philosophy at the club. That was pretty simple and it was based on the three-to-five year view because we understand you cannot change things overnight. It does take time to change.
"There is an overall club philosophy that we would like to play attractive, possession-based football. We think that that done well is a winning way of playing.
"Ricki presented to the board on the style, formations and tactics that he wanted to implement. He's
done a lot of work on that.
"It wasn't anybody saying, 'Ricki go and play this way,' or, 'We'll set the tactics for you,'. That is simply not the case and has never been the case."
What is clear is that Herbert and his team need to start delivering – and quickly if they are to stand any chance of reaching the playoffs.
"It's absolutely our aim to make the playoffs. We know it's difficult from where we're currently sitting. But we absolutely want to make the playoffs," Morrison said.
"[But] the longer-term objective is that we do want to change the culture of the club and the way we develop talent at the club and the way that we bring that talent through. That's a three-to-five year plan."
So is it short-term pain for long-term gain?
"Trying to get alignment between short-term objectives and longer-term objectives doesn't always happen," admitted Morrison.
"But what is clear is that the short-term goal is that we do want to win football matches.
"There is no excuse for us not winning football matches. Ricki has been told that he has to win football matches.
"We're backing him to win those games and we're backing the players to win those games."