The best thing about the Uffie Talay hiring was that he felt like a natural progression, somebody who could pick up where Mark Rudan left off and take this club to the next level with minimal disruption. He has so much in common with Rudes, from the Sydney FC links to his youth footy experience to their time playing together at multiple clubs to the fact that this is a well-deserved first A-League head coaching gig to that scrappy and determined attitude they share. About the only difference is that Uffie’s family is hopping the ditch with him.
Yeah but picking up where the last guy left off, that’s not quite the way it’s played out. Instead this offseason has once again left the Nix in maximum rebuild mode. Of the 23 players who played on senior contracts under Mark Rudan, how many are under contract for next season? Just seven. An absolutely ridiculous amount of player turnover and at this point, with only one player left who’s played more than 52 times for the club, and frankly those dreams of continuity have been absolutely drenched at this point. Oli Sail and Callan Elliot were only backups so we’re talking about replacing more than half the preferred starting eleven.
Let’s put this into some more context. Louis Fenton has played 102 games for the Nix but a year ago he had a year off his contract with his career in a bit of a wobble due to injuries. Alex Rufer is the next most experienced club man with 52 games but that’s spread over like six years with that Rudan season being the only one where he was a first choice regular. Next up is Sarpreet Singh with 41 games, a 20 year old who has been in the first team for a year and a half. Same deal for Libby Cacace with 34 appearances. Then we’ve got the lone import left, Steven Taylor, who has had one single season with the Nix. Nobody remaining at the club has scored more than Singh’s nine goals. Twelve of the seventeen players who had the most minutes last season have gone.
Included on that departures list are the club captain of the last many years in Andrew Durante and also the top scorer/best player Roy Krishna whose speed, skill, and finishing have carried the team for the last few seasons. All four imports other than Taylor have gone. Three New Zealand internationals have left the club. Three Australian internationals as well. Whatever the Phoenix look like when the 2019-20 season kicks off it ain’t gonna have too much in common with how they looked when they wrapped up the last one.
Ufuk Talay has been a refreshing presence so far, with a no-nonsense and full-honesty policy towards his media appearances. He doesn’t chat it up, he just says what he thinks and that’s cool. Mark Rudan was an inspiring orator but then he talked his way out of the club so fair play to him but it’s nice to get some contrast in there. And he might as well take a different course because the one laid out for him by Rudes seems to have been packed up and shipped to Western United. It’s not quite starting from scratch because Rudan did do a lot to restore belief to the club and show that the Wellington Phoenix can still compete… but instead of that being a launching pad season now it looks like it was a blip and we’ll have to go through a lot of that again. It’s like a video game. We made it a fair way through the level but then we died and have respawned back where we started. We’ve got greater knowledge of how to complete this level now… but we still have to go through those motions all over again.
This isn’t all on Mark Rudan although he clearly hasn’t helped the situation. Not specifically because he’s recruited for Western United, most just because his leadership got him positioned at front and centre of the Welly Nix Project so when he bailed I think it scared off a few other players. However there has to be a massive finger pointed at the club too. What do you expect from all those one-year contracts? They did the right thing with Steven Taylor and snuck an automatic extension into his deal but there’s only one person who’s cut his contract short to leave and that was Mark Rudan who was allowed to by a ridiculous out clause in that thing.
Everyone else… they’re free agents, they can do what they want. Don’t want everyone leaving at once, stagger their contracts so they don’t all expire at once. Jeezus, folks. Sort it out. The licence saga is obviously a factor but that licence doesn’t expire ‘til after next season (by when they hope to have things sorted on a renewal) so if we’re in this situation in twelve months with an expiring licence then okay but now? Having had similar player turnover a year ago? This isn’t good enough.
What’s helpful is that they have at least been ticking over new signings. Stefan Marinovic coming in was a huge deal, his signing means that Filip Kurto can do whatever he wants, no worries. NZ U20s forward Ben Waine has signed up for two seasons, the first as an academy player and then graduating into a senior deal in twelve months’ time but presumably with first team affiliations the whole way through. That’s been offset by Gianni Stensness deciding that he wants to pursue some options overseas – that goal for the U20s against Norway probably earned him a few offers, can’t argue with that – although Stensness is a midfielder/defender and it’s harder to step up in those areas to senior footy so perhaps he’s not quite ready anyway. Would have been nice to have him but not a disaster to lose him, basically.
Then there’s the trio of Australian players that he’s brought in, none of whom are particularly glamorous and all three are at different stages of their careers. Walter Scott is a promising young fullback who can play on either side and will likely be the understudy to Libby Cacace at left back now that Tom Doyle’s gone. Jaushua Sotirio is an attacking player who has a few years of A-League footy under his belt with Western Sydney Wanderers and the 23 year old and his signing was met by a mixed reception on both sides of the Tasman but he’s young enough he could easily still make big improvements. Then Luke DeVere is just a solid defender with huge experience and with him it’s a matter of keeping fit.
The funny thing is that of all the players who left, many of them were solid performers but only a couple of them are irreplaceable. Potentially only Roy Krishna is irreplaceable. There are four import spots to be filled plus 5-8 more local player spots. Uffie has already said that he’s all about a back four and that could leave Louis Fenton in no-man’s-land, though Cacace and Taylor won’t be fussed about the new formation, they’ve got it on lock either way. Hopefully that means a little more attacking balance and that should help ease the loss of Krishna by committee. Of course that all depends on how well we recruit with those import spots – at least two of whom will be forwards, maybe even three. As for the local jokers, preseason starts in two weeks so we’ll find out then how many trialists find their way to Wellington.
This is about the point where I ought to list a bunch of local kiwi players who they should target but I don’t wanna play that game right now. It’s all the usual candidates from the Premiership plus a couple overseas based dudes in tricky situations. You’ve heard it all before. One thing I’d love to see is them using a visa spot on either David Browne or Tommy Semmy but I dunno if Uffie would risk that on non-pro players (even though I’m convinced the two Papua New Guinea internationals would make the jump). I s’pose the silver lining to the whole player exodus thing this is actually now quite a cool opportunity to invest in Premmy players and fringe All Whites, but yeah. We shouldn’t be in this situation where we’re needing to replace so many players. Except that this is the Wellington Phoenix so it happens every year.
Also whack an ad to say cheers whenever you read something decent
Keep cool but care