The One About Mark Rudan Leaving the Wellington Phoenix

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Alright good people, settle down now. Mark Rudan is leaving at the end of the season. We sorta already knew this news was coming though, right? If he wasn’t willing to shut down the speculation then it meant he was considering it and if he was considering leaving then he was always going to eventually decide that he had to go. You can get all up in arms about the way it’s been handled but you can’t fault the reasoning. He’s been living away from his family. It’s been rough for him. Too rough. He said a while back that if he realised how rough it would be then he never woulda taken the gig. Can’t really blame a fella, can you? Surely not.

So how are we meant to feel about this as Phoenix fans? However you want, as long as you’re not sizzling on the extremes. Thinking of Rudan as some kind of judas is just silly, while viewing him as the departing saviour is equally unproductive. Most point of views in between that are permissible.

Mark Rudan is leaving for the right reasons. His family comes first and nobody with a heart can deny him that. It’s fair to be annoyed by the complication that he’s probably moving to Melbourne for a rival A-League job next. But he’s a football manager. He’s gotta work somewhere and if his family are more open to moving to Melbourne then it ain’t some kinda conspiracy. Dude’s got a life to live, you know? It’s just a bugger that he’ll most likely be managing against the Phoenix next season with at least one current Nix player in his squad (Filip Kurto, whose move to Western United has been confirmed but not announced). So it goes.

There is that other wrinkle about his persistent criticism of the Phoenix upper management’s lack of ambition, and that’s a real factor in what’s gonna come next, but I honestly just can’t find a way to believe that it would have made a difference in Mark Rudan’s decision. I think he was off whether Welnix threw ten mill at the squad for next season and built a massive new high performance centre or not. Yes, that’s something he had an issue with. But I don’t think that’s why he’s left. It’s a hundy percent a personal decision and you can’t get upset at him for that.

I will admit that the handling of this has been borderline awful, from the inability to squash the rumours (as legitimate as they may have been) to the shocking timing of the leak just hours before a crucial away game which the team proceeded to do a bottle job upon. That’s a mess. But that’s as much the club’s fault as Mark Rudan’s fault. Rudan acted pretty decisively. The word is that he told the club of his intentions three weeks ago. The club then played passive with an active story and got stumped… not that there’s an easy way to handle such a weird situation like this. The press release on Monday morning was about as good as they could have done. Only problem was that some silly joker had already gone and leaked it out there on Friday ahead of time, unfortunately.

So it is what it is, Rudan’s leaving and nobody’s really surprised. At the same time, nobody should be too devastated either. Mark Rudan is a first time manager at this level. He’s an Aussie gaffer who had a point to prove. This was a stepping stone for him, leverage to launch himself into a managerial career at this level. I disagree that it was a massive risk for him, in fact I think it was the complete opposite. He was basically playing with house money because with the dysfunctional state of the club when he turned up, if he didn’t improve things then the yarn woulda been that it’s an impossible job and not that Rudan was some kinda fraud or failure. #NixOut and all that jazz.

Best case scenario is that he lasted three seasons. Can anyone seriously picture him staying longer? I think we all knew what the situation was here – Rudan was coming in for a quick turnaround that propelled him into another job closer to home. It was a mutually beneficial arrangement, the Nix needed his steadying hand as much if not more than he needed that stepping stone. As it happens he turned it around so swiftly that we only get one season which means we’ll never see the end of his project here and we’ll never know what the ceiling could have been for this incarnation of the Nix.

But you’re certifiably insane if you don’t think he’s leaving the team in a better situation than he inherited it in. Frankly, the team he inherited was barely clinging on to its existence. Rudan’s come in and straight away gotten the lads back in the playoffs after four years and in the process he’s revived their reputation over the ditch too. Even Bozza’s talking the Nix up now! Sweet as. Cheers for that, Marky. He’s also revived the careers of several players while giving debuts to a handful of exciting kiwi prospects. It’s still a small squad and there’s huge concern about the lack of contracts signed for next season but that might have to be my next article. It’s been a short affair but it’s been one we’ll always remember fondly.

Having said that, the team is team is currently sitting fifth on the ladder and is 20 points off top. They just lost two rather important games in a row which might have cost them a home semi-final which was well within their reach, and with it probably costing themselves their best bet at a playoff win. What I’m saying here is that they’re not exactly Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona all of a sudden. They’re a mid-table team with inconsistencies. There’s a long way to go. The success of this campaign is directly relative to the rock bottom they struck last season.

Almost all the great things that Mark Rudan has achieved are down to mentality and preparation. He’s restored belief and created a foundation which is going to make things a hell of a lot easier for whoever succeeds him. We don’t, however, get to see if he’s got the final product as a tactical manager… because there are several question marks in that area right now. Some of his selections and subs have been odd. This team absorbs a lot of defensive pressure even at the best of times. Roy Krishna’s last month hasn’t been nearly as effective as teams have stopped giving him space in behind defensive lines (four goals in his last nine after ten in his previous nine). They struggle to create in the attacking third. We can be bloody awful with set pieces at both ends. The foundations are there but what comes next?

Mark Rudan might have been the man to mastermind that. He also might not have been. But the foundations that Rudan has established will not crumble overnight just because he’s gone. Alex Rufer won’t forget how to play as a defensive midfielder because he doesn’t have Rudy whispering in his ears. The next manager is going to be able to come in and build upon what’s been left behind. Be grateful for that and trust that there are other managers out there who can do this job. The blueprint is already there. Mark Rudan is leaving and that sucks but he’s leaving for the right reasons and, despite that little Aussie-accented devil on your shoulder telling you that the Phoenix are doomed, he is replaceable. We all move on. The sun keeps rising and the waves keep lapping one after another upon the beach. Rain falls and rivers flow and birds sing and grass grows and you don’t have to worry about a single thing, not really. Life is good.

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