We’re still a few months away from Welly Nix articles that don’t begin with the yarn about how Ufuk Talay is pretty much having to build this squad back up from scratch. Maybe once the actual footy starts and we can get into all that. For now though, even as the squad takes shape with seventeen players now signed to senior contacts following the additions of Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi and Tim Payne late last week, there are still plenty of areas where the Nix are playing catch-up.
One of those areas is that pesky senior leadership aspect. The clock was already ticking until Andrew Durante needed replacing but after he upped and went to Western United he left a significant chasm behind him – one that’s even more magnified when you think of how many experienced players have left the club in the last three years. None more experienced than Andy Durante, who has captained the team for the last decade… in fact he and Ross Aloisi are the only two official club captains the Welly Nix have ever had, incredibly. That’s testament to the influence of Dura but it’s also a picture of what this team is now gonna struggle to replace.
On the field… whatever. Dura wasn’t exactly washed but he certainly hadn’t been the defender he was once the last couple years. A nice resurgent campaign under Mark Rudan was solid but he did fade a bit down the stretch. Off the field is a tougher situation. Only seven players from last season are returning and three of those only made their debuts that term while Libby Cacace got his start only half a season earlier. Louis Fenton and Alex Rufer are the only two fellas who’ve played more than fifty times for the club.
Which begs the question: who’s gonna captain them this season? Hmm… we’ll run through these from most likely downwards, shall we? Here are the eight top candidates…
THE VETERAN: STEVEN TAYLOR
The player at the Phoenix with the most glamorous career behind him. Taylor’s definitely the inspirational type on the paddock, with his diving headers and hearty roars, and he’d be a safe option here with the armband – the top three are basically in a tier of their own. Couldn’t argue with Stevie T at all. But whether that all adds up to captaincy material, whether that’s even something he’d be interested in (or if he’s just out here living his best life), whether Uffie wants to give the captaincy to an import player, whether he’d be as emboldened by the armband as a couple other candidates… that’s all up for debate. Again, nothing wrong with him as a candidate but he would be the safe option.
UPDATE: He does want it, because he wore the armband in the Nix’s first preseason hit out and Uffie confirmed afterwards that Stevie T is the captain to be… but keep reading anyway because we still need a vice for when this fella’s injured or suspended
THE KIWI FAVOURITE: ALEX RUFER
As the enforcer in the midfield he’s an ideal candidate on the park and he’s been around the club for a long time even if it took until last season for him to properly break through as a first team regular. Rufer is on the young side here at only 23 years old but he has the leadership qualities you want in a captain and, let’s be honest, with no standout candidate here giving the armband to somebody like Rufer would be nicely reflective of the youth movement at the Welly Nix. He’s basically a guaranteed starter which is always a necessity and he’s the kind of player that could settle in for a long career with the Nix if he wants it. The only thing counting against him here is his relative inexperience but that’s a problem for every other candidate too, either because of their youth or their limited time at the club. Regardless, he’ll get it one day if he sticks around long enough.
THE SENIOR INTERNATIONAL: STEFAN MARINOVIC
Captaining the side on your debut? It could happen. Marinovic remains the club’s biggest get this offseason, import players come and go and they’re hard to judge until we get to see them in action but luring in an All Whites regular? That’s a biggie. It took some weird circumstances in Big Stef’s career to get him to this point but no dramas for the Welly Nix, they get to reap the benefits and if international pedigree counts for anything then Marinovic has to be a heavy candidate for the captaincy. He’s a vocal leader and a quality dude and he’s going to play pretty much every game. He’s also one of only three players on this list still under contract next season.
THE WONDERKID: LIBERATO CACACE
So far Cacace has comfortably dealt with every subsequent step in his career. His ability to rise to the occasion is absolutely special for a player of his age. He’s a quiet old chap, not one to rark up the lads, but he’ll lead by example if that’s your thing. Definitely a sleeper candidate since if he follows the example of his mate Sarpreet Singh then he won’t be around much longer than another year or two (he earned some serious fans at the U20 World Cup) and if Alex Rufer’s age is a deterrent then it would be a little bit insane to give the captaincy to a bloke who doesn’t even turn 19 until the end of September… but maybe he can be the Matthijs De Ligt of Wellington?
THE SENIOR PRO: DAVID BALL
Yeah… doubt this is much chance of happening, but Ball does come with a lot of experience in the English Football League. He’s been there and done it all before, he’ll be a focal point in the attack, and in a team as low on experience up front as this one is he’s going to be a leader on the field one way or another. But the main downside for Ball is that everything he’s got in his favour in this debate, Steven Taylor has even more of it.
THE CLUB REGULAR: LOUIS FENTON
Who has played the most games for the Welly Nix of the current squad? It’s Louis Fenton and it’s not even close with 107 games compared to Alex Rufer’s 52. More than double. He’s been in and out of the team over that time as he dealt with injuries and last season was a real comeback for him. If you want somebody he understands the club then he’s your fella. Just a matter of two things: is he enough of a first XI lock and is he the natural leader you want in this role? Like the fella above him in this list, Fenton’s biggest issue here is that if you’re leaning towards a character like him then Alex Rufer is just a better and more viable version of that same type of candidate.
THE LOCAL LEADER: TIM PAYNE
A proper hard-worker with the right attitude and plenty of those old leadership qualities, he did captain Eastern Suburbs to the Premiership title a few months back after all (along with Nix teammate Callum McCowatt). Considering that team was even younger than this one is gonna be, he’s already got experience as a senior pro in his mid-20s… but he did have to trial for his spot here and might be too much of a depth player, at least at first, to be in this conversation.
THE EXPERIENCED AUSSIE: LUKE DEVERE
The last two captains have been experienced Aussies and Luke DeVere has more than a decade of A-League experience plus if he’s fit then he should be a regular next to Steven Taylor at the back there. We just got finished with a captain who played CB with an Aussie accent so, you know, it’d be familiar at least.
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