The End of the Welly Nix Season, Part 2: The New Gaffer

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There were reports in recent times from across the ditch saying that Sydney FC assistant coach Ufuk Talay had already been offered the gig replace Mark Rudan as Wellington Phoenix manager. Reports are reports and you never quite know which ones you’re allowed to take seriously, particularly when it’s those Aussie jokers talking about the Nix. Jean-Paul de Marigny was supposedly a lock this time last year too but hey what do you know? Talay hadn’t been the only person publically linked to the job and given the Nix’s track record you’d be forgiven for thinking it might be a while before next season’s priorities got dealt with.

But lo and behold, just after 9am on Saturday morning the Welly Nix threw it all out there: Ufuk Talay was confirmed as the head coach for the 2019-20 season.

This wasn’t even twelve hours after the final whistle of their current season, the final whistle of Mark Rudan’s tenure with the club. Rudan was appointed 46 days after their last game and even then they knew that they needed a new boss going all the way back a month and a half before that after Darije Kalezic got the flick Those 46 days of speculation and managerial purgatory took their toll, even if we did end up with a decent one in the end. So quick work from the Nix management here. Credit where it’s due.

Ufuk Talay has only signed on for one season. Currently there are seven players signed on for next season and only two contracted beyond that. Sixteen other players are off contract and at least one of them has supposedly already signed on elsewhere. This is the situation where we find ourselves and after the chaos that was Mark Rudan signing for two years but with a get out clause in there after one it’s a little concerning that Talay has only been given one season himself. Concerning but also understandable considering that licence thing which is now a very immediate problem that needs dealing with… and it’s kinda out of the club’s hands at this moment. The people who matter seem to be optimistic that the independent A-League will sort it all out as they enter the final year of their current licence, but until that’s confirmed then it’s a shadow hanging over the club all the same.

It’s at least a promising start that they’ve gotten Ufuk Talay in so early though. It shows that they’re not wasting time like they did a year ago, when Mark Rudan was tasked with a starting with only a dozen or so players to work with and after all the rest of the A-League clubs were already getting into things. He had more work to do in less time, even in what’s admittedly the world’s longest offseason.

Talay comes into a much more stable environment and with a 46-day headstart... sort of.  Bit of a drama here in that Talay won’t join the club until the conclusion of Sydney FC’s run in the Asian Champions League which might possibly not be until the end of June (although with SFC bottom of their group with two games remaining it shouldn’t take that long). That’s not ideal, but then everybody’ll still be on holiday during that time anyway and the most important thing is honestly just that he’s been announced – we’re not stuck in uncertaintyland.

So what do we know about Ufuk Talay? He’s 43 years old and about to take on his first head coaching gig of this standard. Had a solid career as a professional over in Turkey (he’s of Turkish heritage) with Galatasaray for eight years though he spent a lot of those years out on loan. He then returned to be an inaugural player for Sydney FC and he was teammates with Mark Rudan not only there but also with Avispa Fukuoka in Japan.

Talay was a clever midfield player with a great eye for a pass but he never player beyond youth level for Australia. He moved into coaching as an assistant for Sydney United in the NSL (same club Mark Rudan later managed) however he soon progressed to a coaching role with the Australian Institute of Sport which he then combined with an assistant’s gig with the Aussie U17s. Between 2016 and 2018 he was the manager of the Australian U20 side. Then he left to be an assistant to Steve Corica at Sydney FC. Now he’s the new Wellington Phoenix manager.

Let’s be honest here, there are more than a couple similarities between Mark Rudan and Ufuk Talay. Young coaches with a lot to prove after being given their first cracks at this level. Both with good experience coaching youth players (Talay with a fair bit more of it) and each with A-League experience both as players and assistant coaches. Plus they’re mates who’ve crossed paths a whole lot of times over the years. Rudy probably put in a good word for his mate, although be careful how you word that…

Weirdly the Fox Sports commentators on Friday night seemed to be talking about Mark Rudan to Western United like it was already done too, which it may or may not be but surely you can’t go saying that ‘til its announced, right? But should that all go ahead as expected then Ufuk Talay will get a sneaky bit of Hollywood scriptwriting to this journey too when he faces off against his predecessor for a slice of oedipal revenge against his old mate. That’ll be fun.

Clearly the club were looking for continuity with this appointment. Which makes sense given they were hoping to have the actual Mark Rudan around next season anyway… instead they’ll get a readymade replacement for him. It’s unlikely that Talay will have the same charisma to him as Rudan does, hard to say until we get to know him but who really does? And we certainly don’t know what he’ll be like from a tactical point of view yet. There are definitely some Rudan variables here that are going to be extremely hard to emulate. That might not all be a bad thing though, and the club reckon he’s ambitious and driven and all those buzzwords so sounds about right.

The one thing which sets Talay apart is that youth coaching experience. The Nix have one of the best academies in the league which is something they pride themselves on and it’s also something that’s a bit of a necessity. If the Nix can’t compete financially with other clubs for players then we need to be able to find our own and the academy has done wonders in recent years. Sarpreet Singh and Libby Cacace are the poster boys but Ben Waine showed the other week that there are plenty more lads coming through and with dudes like Gianni Stensness and Callan Elliot they’ve been pretty decent at spotting young talent from elsewhere too. Talay’s worked a lot with players in that age range. He should know how to get the best out of them and how to challenge them to keep on improving.

Otherwise, yeah. Ufuk Talay ticks all the boxes. He’s the closest thing they could have gotten to the one that got away. That formula worked well enough last time – although how successful that season really was will be a discussion for Part 3 – so now Talay gets to be the one to build upon the foundations that Mark Rudan has left behind. To take the project that he began into the future.

That won’t be an easy thing to do as we saw against Melbourne Victory on Friday night that this sixth placed Nix team are still a long way off the best teams in the league, but Talay does at least inherit the team in a much better state than Rudan got them in and same as with Rudan we know that any Aussie manager that’d take this job is up for the challenge.

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