First Impressions of Ufuk Talay, Wellington Phoenix Manager

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It feels like just yesterday that we were meeting Mark Rudan for the first time. An unproven but driven personality with a strong reputation within the Aussie game coming across the ditch for his first gig at managing an A-League side. You’d almost be forgiven for thinking it was déjà vu as Ufuk Talay took his seat next to a king’s ransom of Gatorade bottles for his introductory presser on Friday afternoon. It wasn’t actually yesterday that Mark Rudan was first introduced to kiwi fans and media, as of Talay’s introduction ‘yesterday’ was in fact when Rudan was introduced to Western United fans and media, but even still 13 June 2018 wasn’t really that long ago.

Mark Rudan’s Phoenix career went through all sorts in the space of less than a year. Plenty of Nix fans have thoroughly turned on him now based on the premise that he sorta led the club along a deceptive path for a while there and then ended up getting another A-League gig straight away… which he may or may not have been working on while still contracted to the Nix. There’s definitely some shadiness about the Western United links but for the most part I don’t think that’s fair. Rudes always seemed like a principled man and the fact that the rumours existed about how unsettled he was, was basically because he didn’t know how to lie to the cameras and deny them. Friends, we had Jon Snow as our football manager last season.

As for the copious quantities of Nix players that he was supposedly trying to kidnap and bring across to Melbourne with him… well, only two have signed. An Aussie and a Polish import. Possibly one more might follow if David Williams picks up the hints left behind but Roy Krishna rejected WU’s offer and, you know, neither Filip Kurto nor Max Burgess were walking out of a two year contract halfway through like their manager. They were both on expiring one year deals and with every right to play their football wherever they want.

Don’t want players walking after one good season? Tie them down on longer deals, duh. Don’t want a manager leaving halfway through a two-year deal? Don’t give them an out-clause, duh. Everybody’s just playing the field and once again the Wellington Phoenix are in a frustrating and vulnerable position because they’ve failed to adequately plan ahead.

But I digress, those are all peripheral ideas now because Ufuk Talay has come to town. With any new manager comes uncertainty and that manifests itself in a couple different ways. You’ve got fear of the uncertain and you’ve got hope for the uncertain. Phoenix fans are pretty used to that fear at this point, there’s an almost inherent scepticism there and it’s not always unwarranted either given the absolute state of the FFA. But regardless of how you feel about Mark Rudan’s departure, he’s left the club in a much sturdier place than he inherited it in and now his old mate Ufuk gets to both build upon what was left behind but also implement new and contrasting ideas to the Wellington Phoenix.

So what did we learn about the new fella from his opening presser? Quite a bit, to be honest.

HE’S NOT AS OBVIOUSLY ELOQUENT AS THE LAST BLOKE

Feels like a fair things to say. Mark Rudan often speaks like he’s wearing his heart on his sleeve where as Ufuk Talay seems to hold a bit more back. A couple times he turned questions around on reporters, like when Jason Pine asked about what style of footy he’d bring and UT in return asked him what he’d like to see. Which was goals, naturally. Nothing prickly about it though you did sorta get the impression that he’s not going to use the media as a megaphone in the same way as Rudes. Might be a little more elusive. A little more guarded in his comments at times, particularly if things are going wrong with results.

None of which is a bad thing, in fact a fair few fans would probably prefer it after what they perceive as some of the broken promises of the previous regime. Again, I’m not all on board with that perception but I’m pretty partial to a quiet, calculating type of manager myself. He didn’t own the podium in the same way that Mark Rudan tends to. However he didn’t exactly hesitate on any answers either. Seemed to know what he wanted to say and he said it. Sweet as. These are only first impressions after all.

BUT UFUK TALAY DOES SOUND LIKE HE’LL BRING A MORE TACTICAL APPROACH TO THE GAME

“For me, the way I believe the game should be played is where the players enjoy the way that they play and also the fans enjoy what they see. So that’s an attacking style of football. When we have the ball we’re aggressive. We wanna be dominant when we have the ball. And when we don’t have the ball we want to be aggressive as well, when we don’t have it we want to be compact and not concede goals. I would love for us to play an attacking style where we do score a lot of goals and the players enjoy what we do. And like I said when we don’t have it we’re very aggressive and we win the ball back and then we play our style again.”

He’d already spoken about the idea when pressed on recruitment that he wants players that will fit his scheme and vision. What that vision is, that’s hard to tell. Those words above got into some nice ideas about an attacking mentality and a feisty defence but they didn’t exactly get into any specifics about them. Just says we want to be aggressive without the ball… does that mean a heavy press form the forwards or does that just mean more uncompromising and physical work from the central defenders? Because the latter was pretty common under Rudan anyway. And every manager touts attacking football these days. It’s part of the job.

Rudan was always quite pragmatic, building from the back. Talay said he wants goals but he also emphasises being compact at the back and not conceding goals as a foundation of it all. So I doubt we see any Darije Kalezic levels of revolution. If he’s keeping his Sydney FC ideas around then expect four at men in defence this time… though that doesn’t really mean anything when we don’t even know what the squad will look like yet. But yeah, Talay said that recruitment is essential to it all. Getting the right players to play the way he wants to do it is enormous. What that way of play looks like, we’ll begin to find out in a few months.

HE’S PRETTY OPENLY AMBITIOUS

Ufuk Talay wants to win things. He says he’s not just here “to make up the numbers in the competition” and the goal is to win as much as possible. To go further than last season. To challenge and potentially even win trophies (these aims aren’t all targeted to this one season, obviously). And that begins with the FFA Cup.

You may recall that the Nix have an awful record in the FFA Cup. They tend to come in under done and then play a bunch of fringe players – Mark Rudan certainly didn’t care too much when his team was humiliated by Bentleigh Greens (where Team Welly midfielder Mario Ilich is currently playing!) last season and excuses that shocker by saying they were still extremely early in their rebuilding process. Which was true… but it was still an annoying result even if they treated it like a friendly game. Ufuk Talay seems to be a little too competitive to look for silver linings in defeat. He’s coming from being as assistant coach for the championship winning club and those are the standards that he’ll bring with him. He knows exactly what it takes to win it all.

Clearly the Nix aren’t good enough to win the A-League next season. We learned rather bluntly in the playoff defeat to Melbourne Victory just how much further they have to go to cross those bridges. But for a club that was satisfied with simply making the playoffs last season, for a club where fans are often so focussed on the worst case scenario that optimism is indecipherable from delusion, having a gaffer who is ambitious enough to target absolutely everything is a welcome change.

UFUK’S LEARNED THE LESSONS OF MARK RUDAN

Of course he’s chatted with his buddy Mark Rudan since taking the job, but he’s also learned a few lessons from afar, it seems. Most specific was one which a few people took as a shot fired against his mate when he said he was in this for the long haul and that we know it’s true because his family are moving here. Either soon or at the end of the school year. Rudan’s family living overseas was his biggest issue and what ultimately led him to Melbourne which was a more amenable destination for the fam, however the Talay clan will have no such dramas.

Also when somebody brought up the instant rivalry with Western United, Talay’s immediate response was: “That’s great. I’m looking forward to it.”

There are plenty other things that Rudan could have improved upon too. The team’s lack of depth in the squad was a big one. Their inability to break down deep defensive lines was another. A lack of clean sheets. Yellow cards and suspensions, naturally. Heaps more he can learn from the fella while he’s at it. But I love that Ufuk Talay, competitive chap that he is, is more than professional enough to put any personal affiliations aside and absolutely target that Western United game. Who wouldn’t want to beat their predecessor, aye? Very classical mythology of him… it’s not enough simply to surpass the man who came before him, now he has to destroy him.

FELLA’S GOT SOME RECRUITMENT IDEAS

“Yes. It is very key because football is about recruitment. I think 70% goes to recruitment and the other 30% is actually the motivation side of things and also the tactical side of things. Look, we’re not in no rush to sign players. We’re not going to jump at every player that’s throw at us. For me I look at it as a good thing where I can build a team on the way that I wanna play the game and what I believe the game looks like to me. So like I said were not in no rush to sign and jump on players. Players need to fit into what I believe the game looks like. It’s not just signing good players for the sake of them being just good.”

The club did all they could in negotiations with Roy Krishna (ultimately in vain). Andrew Durante is wanted back if he’s keen to keep playing (otherwise he’ll be in a club suit in some capacity). Talay was involved in the decision to release six players last week. He has spoken to Tom Doyle and that’ll all be revealed soon. The club is “close” to signing a new number one keeper (Stefan Marinovic, probably). Talay wants players that suit his vision. He wants players who want to be here and doesn’t care about those that have chosen to leave. The club has a list of possible local targets that they’re working through. He’s aiming for signings all the way through the spine: central defence, midfield, number ten, and a goal-scoring number nine.

Squad depth was a big issue under Mark Rudan and there’s the very real accusation here that his recruitment was average at best. His coaching and development of players was a different story, as you can see from the strides made by blokes like Alex Rufer and Louis Fenton, but his recruitment? For David Williams there was Mitch Nichols. For Max Burgess there was Reuben Way. Michal Kopczynski was signed as a midfielder and played mostly in defence. Cillian Sheridan could have been a difference maker but couldn’t hardly get a start – whether that was because of his ability or because Rudan didn’t prefer him… either way best case scenario is Rudan signing a player that didn’t fit his vision there which is exactly what Talay is saying he won’t do. Rudan focussed on personalities. Talay seems more about ability – when asked about the NZ Premmy he said he’ll sign players from everywhere, that the more kiwis the better at a kiwi club, but they have to be good enough. Both of them stressed that they wouldn’t rush things at the expense of getting the right dudes.

IT’S PRONOUNCED “UH-FOOK” BUT WE CAN CALL HIM “UFFIE”

Tagging you radio and telly people in that one because I’ve already heard some questionable pronunciations that might get you hauled up before the BSA if the wrong person hears it.

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