As the dusts settles on the A-League semi-finals, there is one question that is niggling. What exactly is going on in Wellington?
First Goal.com’s Covert Agent revealed that Wellington Phoenix chairman Robert Morrison was looking to sell up shop for $5 million after another disappointing season where the Nix barely escaped the wooden spoon for finishing bottom of the Hyundai A-League. According to Goal, Morrison was actively looking to sell the club’s two-year licence amid meetings taking place with clubs from south-west Sydney, Campbelltown and Brisbane, in addition to Southern Expansion.
Then came the nods of agreement from the talking heads, the Australian television pundits. Robbie Slater welcomed the news; “For me it’s a bit of positive news because Wellington cannot continue in its current form,” Slater stated on Fox Sports, where he commentates on a variety of games. “It’s been absolutely, putting it bluntly, hopeless.” Former Aston Villa, Manchester United and Central Coast Mariners goalkeeper Mark Bosnich added; “I think it has come time – and I feel very sorry for the players and I’m sure the players will be picked up by A-League clubs – just to admit that the New Zealand experiment has not worked.”
Wellington Phoenix went on the offensive, publishing a statement on their website which reads like a very angry Chairman directing his frustration at apparent negotiations being conducted across media channels; “For the record the Phoenix are not doing any deal with South Melbourne, we are not in negotiations with them and the last official contact that the Phoenix had with South Melbourne was August 2016.” They also addressed the Brisbane Strikers rumours; “This is pure fairy tale stuff. The Phoenix have made no approach to the Brisbane Strikers, we have had no discussions with them and there are no talks on going. Can we make it any clearer than that? No one from SBS fact checked this article with the Phoenix, it doesn’t even rank as mediocre journalism.”
Robert Morrison didn’t hold back when criticising the FFA either, which is either brave or suicidal depending on your standpoint; “It’s indicative of where the A-League has got to. The FFA like to use us as a bit of a whipping boy and they’ve been public about the fact that we’re a concern to them, but the bigger concern is the way the FFA run the A-League.” It is clear that failing attendances, the introduction of the 2+1 rule for marquee players and international breaks disrupting the season have left many clubs unhappy.
David Gallop, the FFA CEO, had his say by speaking to FourFourTwo; “Rob Morrison knows perfectly well that FFA began talking to the clubs about a new ownership and operating model for the Hyundai A-League in early 2017 – more than a year ago,” Gallop said in response to criticism. “The FFA works on a daily basis with the clubs – including Wellington Phoenix – to improve attendance and television audiences for the Hyundai A-League. It’s a shared responsibility and some clubs are faring better than others.”
While the club itself is facing an uncertain future, sadly it was business as usual during the 2017-18 campaign for the Nix. The New Zealand side finished second-from-bottom in the A-League and saw coach Darije Kalezic part ways with the club before the end of the season. His replacement was Chris Greenacre, once part of a successful Wellington side that reached three consecutive finals series places. Greenacre is a solid hand and oversaw a period of relative stability compared to what came prior but is a classic number two. The next appointment is an important one.
Wellington Phoenix fan and Yellow Fever member Tony Hudson wrote a staunch defence of the Phoenix, citing that Wellington are one of only two A-League sides never to require a bailout from the FFA and insisting that the club struggle to retain staff due to the negative news coverage. What Tony fails to acknowledge is the real problem, that they are a displaced club playing in Australia with permission from the FFA. There comes a time when biting the hand that feeds you is no longer a good idea, if it ever was.
Tony takes aim at the Covert Agent at Goal and John Kosmina but handily skirts around the answer that was staring him in the face all along. If the football was any good, none of these problems would exist. There was a small sighting of a glimmer of light at the end of a long, dark tunnel as Wellington Phoenix beat Melbourne City 2 – 1 in their final game of the season to notch just their fifth win and move off the bottom of the table. The two teenagers who excelled should provide Wellington Phoenix’s foundation for years to come as Sarpreet Singh scored a brace and Liberato Cacace excelled at left-back.
In fact, should the football propel the Nix up the league, it would provide another problem entirely because as a New Zealand club, Wellington Phoenix are not permitted to enter the AFC Champions League, which is reserved for the highest two finishers on the A-League ladder.
What does give me hope is that Robert Morrison himself agrees; “We need to get better results on the park – everyone knows that. If we do that, it’s obviously going to be a lot easier for our fan base.”
I, along with everybody else, will be very interested to see how the summer develops in Wellington.