Bad news is a well-liked and successful manager leaving your football club. Worse news is when that manager is almost certainly leaving to join a rival club in the same competition. Worst news is when three-quarters of your current squad are still unsigned and might all decide to pop across and join the old gaffer at his new club.
In his (extensive) exit presser, Mark Rudan denied that he’s got any agreement with Western United. However he did sort of address the thing about maybe living in Melbourne and, let’s be honest, there’s only one reason he’s considering moving to Melbourne. Which… no dramas. It’s all been discussed over here. Summary: Rudy’s leaving the club in an improved state and he’s leaving for the right reasons, which is a shame but it still keeps the Nix in a healthy position to keep growing from here. With the right manager, of course. But at least we have the blueprint for what that looks like now.
Let the bloke live his best life with his family close by. No need to wonder about ulterior motives when the explanation offered makes complete sense already. The only thing you should be sceptical about here is how exactly it’s gotten to where three-quarters of the squad is still off contract so close to the end of the season. We’re in a situation where only six players have signed up for next season so far, I mean Western United don’t even exist as a football team yet and they’ve got double that number. Considering the same thing happened last season there aren’t a whole lot of excuses for this inaction. Obviously they’ve got ongoing negotiations. Obviously they’ve also still got the licence thing which isn’t quite sorted out yet. But there’ll definitely be a Phoenix for at least one more season so let’s see some one year contracts already. Jeezus, what are we waiting for?
But this idea that half the squad is gonna follow Mark Rudan out the door now… nah, sorry. Not buying that one, chieftain. Mark Rudan’s had a great influence on so many of these players but the Phoenix exists as an entity outside him too, you know. This fear just feels like more of that pervasive Nix Fan Pessimism (the dreaded NFT). Gotten so used to copping shots as fans of this club that we’re flinching away from one which hasn’t even been thrown yet. The nature of having a small squad with a lot of locals is that there are only a handful of players at risk of leaving against the club’s best efforts and maximum maybe two or three that might end up at Western United.
David Williams was one who specifically said he was waiting for the manager to decide what he was gonna do before deciding anything so he’s been used as a bit of a barometer… but David Williams isn’t a representative example of the rest of the squad. He’s a singular figure out there. An Australian international who came across the ditch to try and reinvigorate his career having been captured by the glamour of Mark Rudan. He was only ever here to leverage a better deal in Australia, which is perfectly fine because that’s incentive to play well and score goals, which he’s done fantastically. Maybe Mark Rudan could have convinced him to hang around. But the dude was always gonna be taking calls after the goals he’s scored, even if Rudan had stayed.
So let’s say Mark Rudan does end up at Western United. If he does then Willo might follow him, sure. Filip Kurto has basically already agreed to move there. Fil’s missus was unsettled in Wellington so they’re moving to the Australian Wellington instead. Makes sense… sort of. And Roy Krishna will be on the wishlist for every single club in the competition. Also Ryan Lowry and Max Burgess, as Aussie lads, must be open to a move back to Oz for the same reason that the Phoenix have targeted New Zealand players from other clubs in the past (Kosta Barbarouses, Glen Moss, Mike McGlinchey, etc.). There’s no place like home, Dorothy, and as the only pro club in Aotearoa that balance helps us much more than it hinders us.
But let me just pop that balloon of NFP that says half the squad is heading to Western United to follow Mark Rudan once and for all because any kiwi player that signs for another A-League club is doing so as an import player. And there are limits on imports. Which guys are honestly commanding import spots from within this squad? Matt Ridenton got one so there is a precedent, especially for ex-managers, but with Libby Cacace, Sarpreet Singh, and Alex Rufer all signed up for next season… Tom Doyle, maybe? Doubt it. None of the kiwis are leaving unless the club decides they don’t want them.
In fact, let’s take a look at the whole squad as it stands and see what’s up…
Filip Kurto – Supposedly already agreed with Western United, though not yet unveiled
Justin Gulley – Contracted ‘til the end of the season and probably playing for an extension
Mandi Sosa – Hard to say, but his kid was born in Wellington and he’s playing well… of all the imports other than Taylor he feels most likely to stay
Ryan Lowry – Dunno, up to Ryan. But he’s not first XI and we wouldn’t really miss him if he left
Cillian Sheridan – Would like to see him stay but who really knows? Hasn’t had a massive role under Rudan so maybe the prospect of a new manager might convince him. The Sherriff has played for a lot of clubs in his time but he’s mostly stuck around for a couple years at each
Nathan Burns – At this point, would you even notice if he left?
David Williams – Assuming he’s on his way out and he probably always was, fair play to the lad and let’s hope there are a few more goals to come yet, maybe earn another zero on his next deal
Antony Golec – Tricky one to gauge since he’s only been around a few months. His move was a bit of a convenient one in getting out of Central Coast, though he might wanna stay, you never know. Golec is the kind of experienced A-League player that you always want a couple of in any squad even if they aren’t gonna be first eleven
Liberato Cacace – Signed on for next season
Alex Rufer – Signed on for next season
Michal Kopczynski – Only ever signed on loan but it did sorta feel like the kind of loan that was meant as a way to run down his contract. Not sure if Legia Warsaw still have him on the books next season or not, that’s been hard to research without speaking Polish, and I s’pose he’s one who might want to follow Rudan… although he’s a midfielder playing out of position at the moment so whatever
Louis Fenton – Signed on for next season and the season after
Callan Elliot – Too fresh to have any competition from other A-League clubs so as long as the next manager doesn’t hate him then he should be easy to retain
Sarpreet Singh – Signed on for next season
Thomas Doyle – Off contract and has been injured for a couple months now but preeeetty sure he’d sign a new deal if it was slipped in front of him at breakfast tomorrow
Oliver Sail – Signed on for next season and the season after
Roy Krishna – The one dude in this squad who the club are expected to retain but might not be able to. Mark Rudan is right, throw all the cash at him. Use a marquee spot. Do everything within the club’s power to keep Roy in yellow and black and if he decides he wants to try something new then at least you tried your best
Andrew Durante – Extremely likely to retire and will need to be replaced somehow, some way… but not convinced the Rudan decision will play any part in his own one – once old mate’s been through the testimonial treatment then the writing is on the wall
Max Burgess – The star of the last month and a favourite bench option late in games for Rudan even before that, he’s been great lately and it’d be sweet to see him stay. However he’s an Aussie who’d probably prefer a move back home if it works out that way. The Phoenix gave him his break at this level so he might not want to risk that, but let’s be honest… he was an NPL dude and there are plenty more where he came from, just gotta hope the next few rise to the Burgess level and don’t stumble at the Reuben Way level
Steven Taylor – Signed on for next season
There you go then. Remember that this is a small squad anyway. At the moment we’ve got Gianni Stensness and Ben Waine in the midst of it and they’re on youth deals right now. Otherwise we’re looking at a largely bare cupboard of 20 fellas. Five of the preferred starting eleven are re-signed, as well as a backup keeper. One is probably retiring. One has already agreed elsewhere. David Williams is unlikely to stay and you have to expect that from a guy in his situation, it’s no different to when Nathan Burns came here the first time, absolutely fizzed, then left for Japan. If you get caught out there then it’s because you weren’t playing your offside trap tight enough.
Roy Krishna is number one on the priority list. Mandi should be a firm but distant second. Cillian Sheridan, Michal Kopczynski, and David Williams you do your best to retain but realistically they’ll all have other options so it’s gonna be a personal decision for each of them and none are kiwis with that Aotearoa connection to bind them. Those four plus Burgess and Lowry are the ones most likely to depart these premises. And are any of them irreplaceable? Only really Roy Krishna, to be honest.
Look, we were never going to re-sign the entire squad. That hardly ever happens in football, and if it does then it’s usually a bad thing because this is a sport where standing still means falling behind. The manager is leaving and at least a couple of key players are likely to be heading for the exit door too… whether they end up wherever Rudan goes or elsewhere doesn’t really matter. Right now there’s a bit of a supressed crisis about how few players are actually under contract for next season. But I’m telling you only two or three max will/can follow him to Western United (again, if that happens). There are four ex-Nix players at the Newcastle Jets right now, three of whom signed directly from Welly. Nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing to worry about. But a few swift re-signings sure wouldn’t go astray right now.
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