My days living in England often saw an overdose of football when it came to the weekends. This was back in the mid-90s, when live rugby on telly was pretty much restricted to the Five (yes, it was still five then) Nations.
I couldn’t be bothered trekking to the Stoop to watch Harlequins when I had Fulham and Chelsea football clubs within walking distance of my apartment. In late 1996 some new French bloke called Arsene Wenger got appointed as the guvnor at Arsenal, and I made my one and only trip to Highbury to watch the Arse beat Leeds 3-0. Arsene’s current net worth is about NZ$47 million, and he has another year to go on his NZ$13 million per annum contract.
Nonetheless, Wenger’s longevity at Arsenal appears to be wearing thin. Sixteen seasons is a long time for anyone, and Wenger has given the club three Premier League titles and four FA Cups. Unfortunately for the Arse fans, there hasn’t been a trophy since the 2004-05 season.
He does have an overall winning record of about 57% from his 950-odd matches in charge of the North London larrikins.
Compare that to Ricki Herbert.
In charge of the Phoenix, he has overseen 53 wins out of 153 games – about 35%. He has been in charge since 2007.
I don’t entertain failure much. If I can see the failures are stepping stones to success, then I’m willing to cut some slack.
I’ve had to axe, or watch jump, a number of coaches over the years, from national teams down to club sides. It’s never a nice business, but I’ve been lucky that the majority of the coaches have seen the writing on the wall, and have taken their dumping with better grace than players who get dropped.
While Arsenal has plenty of future managers to choose from, the Phoenix replacing Thirty-Five Percent Herbert illustrates an issue which permeates New Zealand sport.
The focus on elite athletes and elite coaches ignores a dearth of coaching resources underneath the elite.
Gone are the days a former great player can step up and coach a team. A former rep rugby player looked at coaching a senior club rugby side and told me that the game had changed so much – on and off the field – since he finished playing five years ago, that he would struggle to run a team.
So he went to his local union and asked about coaching courses. Their response?
“We’ll get back to you.” That was 14 months ago, and despite his phone calls and emails, the response remains the same.
Herbert stays as coach of the Phoenix because we have a limited talent pool to run a professional football side. Wenger stays on his record, but his time is running out.
The Phoenix management play off Herbert’s genial nature and his place in Kiwi football history as the bloke who took the All Whites to the last World Cup.
More than anything, they play off the lack of talent coming through to replace him.
It could be the Phoenix and NZ Football are too closely intertwined when it comes to coaching talent. If the ‘Nix want to achieve, perhaps it’s time they looked offshore until a local coach can step up.
There could be this unemployed French bloke who might like a season or two in Wellington during the summer. After all, he is loaded, so money is not an issue……