Fritz Schmid, We Hardly Knew Ye… Now About The Rest Of This Mess…

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What are we supposed to think when a manager skips out on a national team that doesn’t even play in the first place? Nothing, to be honest. It was already an empty void so it can’t get any emptier. Fritz Schmid has gone on a permanent walkabouts after sixteen months and just four games in charge – none of those games featuring anything close to full strength squads. The team that went to India over a year ago was pretty much a B team. The squad that faced Canada last March was compromised by club commitments too. Schmiddy never got to manage Chris Wood or Winston Reid or Stefan Marinovic or Bill Tuiloma or Ryan Thomas or Tommy Smith. He never really got to do bloody anything.

What’s odd about it is that he’s left right on the brink of having some actual work to do, after basically just being an overpaid scout for the twelve previous months. The Pacific Games are coming up and New Zealand is supposed to have a team there which would begin the whole U23/Olympic journey… although there’s big doubt over that one now. There was already trouble with player availability and now the coach has disappeared so that whole thing is up in the air now. Surely Des Buckingham slides in for continuity with that U20 side but… yeah. Who knows.

There’s nothing much to say about Schmiddy. He seemed like a nice enough bloke, he seemed to have the ability to get something out of this team. But he never really got the chance and now he’s gone. Oh well, whatever, never mind.

Instead this story is way more about all the ramifications rather than the legacy. The All Whites are a non-entity at the moment. They’re a ghost of a team. They have not played a meaningful game since November 2017 with the Peru qualifiers and will not play one until November this year, so that World Cup cycle has been chopped in half just like that. Obviously not ideal. Schmid was contracted for the full four year cycle but now that’s gone out the window with nothing much accomplished – his one enduring achievement was offering ten international debuts, including to Michael Woud, Sarpreet Singh, Libby Cacace, and Andre De Jong, so I guess that’s something decent.

But we don’t even know why he’s gone. NZ Football have played it close to their chests and kept it all in line with Schmiddy’s vague explanation of reflecting upon his “private and professional situation”. Which doesn’t actually mean anything, does it? Private + Professional = Anything & Everything. There had been rumours that he’s not getting on with interim technical director Andy Boyens but nobody’s bitten at that bait yet. And there was no indication that this was popping up on the tarot cards until the day it was announced.

You know what though? It’s not completely surprising when you really stop and think about it. Fritz Schmid shouldn’t be lumped in with these fellas and he definitely conducted himself in a way more positive way for footy in this country… but he was a hangover from a disastrous era. Appointed by Andy Martin and Andreas Heraf early last year and within four months they were both gone in dramatic circumstances. Doubt he would’ve been hired by the current folks. So Schmid’s position can’t have been too comfortable and, unfortunately for the fella, he was forever linked to the drama that he was appointed in the midst of. Dude must have surely felt a little isolated once NZF began moving in a different direction with Andrew Pragnell coming in as interim CEO and Andy Boyens as interim technical director – a couple kiwi fellas trying to pick up the pieces.

Doesn’t exactly help that NZF then went on a big search to find a new CEO and ended up just appointing the dude who they already had as interim. Pragnell might well do wonders in the job but it’s a weird look. And Boyens is still chilling in his interim gig too – this organisation has had about a year to get the wheels of change rolling and here they are still in a holding pattern. It’s bloody ridiculous, to be honest.

But Schmid is gone now and as annoying as it is to have even more upheaval, at least this is an opportunity now for NZ Football to prioritise the right things. It’s not that there’s a wrong way to do these things but you do need to change if you’re going to evolve. When Jose Mourinho gets sacked by a club, he’s almost always replaced by a Guus Hiddink/Ole Gunnar Solskjaer type who swings towards the other side of the pendulum, preaching positivity and team values instead of that win-at-all-costs mentality. It’s a serpentine progression. We just came out of a period where a lot of overly professional voices from overseas flew down to Aotearoa to spread their football colonialism, disguised as missionaries. I mean, Andy Martin wasn’t even a football guy which never helped – he was hired out of English rugby (there was your first warning) but regardless what we need now are local voices who have the best interests of the game, the players, and the fans at heart. People in touch with the grassroots who can do something about the organisational structure at NZF HQ and get things running to the benefit of football from top to bottom and back to top again.

How they go about that from a business angle is tricky and with the stark financial state of things, where almost all the Premiership clubs and the regional federations are struggling for cash – oh but Andy Martin promised us that NZF was in such a great financial state! – it’s actually tough to picture things getting to any acceptable level any time soon. An organisation in Temporary Mode isn’t one that’s gonna make the out-of-the-box decisions that might be necessary here and it definitely doesn’t bloody help that Schmiddy is apparently getting a six-figure payout in severance.

However sometimes these things happen almost accidentally. With enough outside momentum it becomes inevitable and there have been plenty of positive things happening lately. The U20 Men and the U17 Women doing what they did at their World Cups. The Football Ferns didn’t achieve what they set out to achieve at the World Cup but some of those warm-up wins – including over World Cup quarter-finalists Norway and England – prove that this team is still on an upwards trajectory. More and more kiwi players are finding their way into pretty exciting professional environments, not the least of whom being Sarpreet Singh if this Bayern Munich thing comes to fruition as it sounds like it will. This is the biggest participation sport in the country, no excuses really. Good things happen when people make decisions with the right priorities in mind.

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