They say it’s no more use to be ahead of your time than it is to be behind it. The All Whites needed a new manager after Fritz Schmid stepped down in surprising yet underwhelming circumstances and they needed a manager for now. Not some idealised NZ Football marketing version of where this All Whites team is, not the version of a couple years ago coming off a run of meaningful games, but this team in its current state right now.
That current state is not a pretty one. It’s also not an ugly one… it’s just an irrelevant one. The All Whites are an irrelevant team at the moment. They have not played a meaningful game with a top tier squad since November 2017 when Anthony Hudson’s lot were beaten closely but comfortably by Peru in the intercontinental qualifiers for the World Cup (zero shots on target across two games). Since then there have only been two tours and four games and Uncle Tony has already been sacked from his next job and even that happened after Colorado had given him waaay too long.
Most of the top All Whites players haven’t featured since those November 2017 games. They won’t feature again until Hay’s first games in charge against Ireland and Lithuania in November 2019. Already several prominent fellas from the Huddo era have either retired or their international careers are in a precarious place moving forwards. Meanwhile Schmid didn’t do much wrong but he also didn’t do much fullstop. A few valuable players made their senior debuts under him, players like Sarpreet Singh, Michael Woud, Andre De Jong, and Libby Cacace who could be major figures over the next decade, but that’s about all as to that bloke’s lingering legacy.
And that’s just where we are these days. After almost two years lying dormant the All Whites as an entity have become irrelevant. Which is why after two months of searching they’ve ended up with the first fella who publically put his hand up: Danny Hay.
It was either gonna be him or Des Buckingham, right? The two outstanding local candidates and after going extremely global in their searches the last couple times – both under the carpet-bagging monorail salesman Andy Martin’s CEO-ship – they dropped a huge hint that they weren’t going to be looking in that direction this time when they scratched the Pro Licence requirement from the job description. Buckingham does have a Pro Licence (Hay is a step below that) but his candidacy was mostly going to be based around his efforts with the U20 side at the last World Cup as well as his work with the Wellington Phoenix as a coach who is well aware of the local state of play.
But Danny Hay takes that idea just that little bit further as a man who has not only played for but also captained the All Whites back in the day – he and Ricki Herbert will be the only dudes to complete the captain/coach combination for the All Whites. You can make a case for Buckingham as a superior candidate and that’s a fair opinion to hold. I disagree though. I think that while the U20 side was remarkable (let’s not forget they only went as far as the previous two young AWs teams… but geez they played soooo much better), what Danny Hay did at Eastern Suburbs last season was more relevant to coaching a senior international team.
His Eastern Suburbs won the Premiership with a completely homegrown starting team in the grand final and what’s more is that team was incredibly young too. Five of that starting eleven were in Buck’s U20 squad while another was eligible and another missed out by a few months. It was also a squad that required an immense amount of coaching, man management, and even some political balance as it was a combination of two distinct units: the Ole Academy crop and the local Suburbs folk. Yet they were a delight to watch, playing free and flowing footy that wasn’t compromised defensively by that approach. Eastern Suburbs conceded the fewest goals of any team that season whilst scoring the most. The humble old national league of Aotearoa does have a bit of an image problem amongst a lot of footy folk, which unfortunately understates just what an achievement that was from Suburbs.
Plus Danny Hay is a New Zealander. That doesn’t always matter but after two foreign import coaches came in and did nothing in particular – Hudson got exactly as far as was minimally expected of him despite all the big chat (winning 1 of 16 games against non-OFC nations) – it’s a welcome change. Particularly given the proclivity towards English ex-pats for national coaching gigs in New Zealand. Sorry Des.
Coaching appointments always happen in response to the previous regimes, just look at the types of gaffers that have been hired to replace Jose Mourinho through his career, and with the All Whites pretty much needing to be re-established from the ground upwards it helps to have somebody who is completely invested in that ground level. You could say many of the same things about Des Buckingham too and there would have been nothing wrong with that appointment. But, yeah, it matters that Danny Hay has sweated and been bruised in that All Whites jersey himself. It matters that he was a kiwi player who achieved unprecedented things overseas despite the odds. Those things are crucial when he’s trying to build up a new culture and get that same buy in from both new and old players.
Naturally Hay’s been talking it up about how passionate and honoured he is to take this job, which is lovely to see. That’s a big reason of why he’s been hired after all. But remember that what he did with Eastern Suburbs wasn’t just impressive… it was brave and revolutionary. Which is why when his first squad is named ahead of those Ireland and Lithuania games it’s going to be extremely interesting to see. This is a guy who wouldn’t be afraid to hack down the dead wood. A guy who isn’t going to do what Anthony Hudson did and prioritise ability over passion (not professionalism but passion, there was a difference with that dude – dropping guys for being unfit and all that).
It’s also a bit of a luxury to be taking over at a time when there’s a large group of young players knocking at the door, many of whom Hay has coached at Premiership or U17 level. Obviously there are some senior players who are beyond reproach. But there are also a few veteran figures who were extremely prominent under Anthony Hudson who might not get the same slack with Danny Hay, not only because of complacency but also thanks to a growing depth beneath the top squad that, to be fair, Anthony Hudson never really got to experience – instead trying to manufacture it over his first year in charge, to extremely mixed results. Then again, whether or not he’d have been able to identify it even if it was there is another thing… though he did put respect on Alex Rufer’s name before anyone else so there’s that in his favour.
Plus on a very refreshing note we should hopefully have seen the last of Uncle Tony’s Boring Pragmatism with Danny Hay an advocate for quick and intelligent and proactive football as we’ve seen on full display for Eastern Suburbs. Making the All Whites fun to watch… it’s a stretch to imagine it but the U20 side at that World Cup a few months ago will have been a rock through the window of the Boring Pragmatists that don’t think New Zealand can compete with other nations at any decent level without sacrificing all initiative in games. Funnily enough, those are the sentiments that tend to come from imported coaches who were hired to bring the gospel of European football to Aotearoa. Which in turn spreads an inferiority complex through kiwi football… but there’s much less of that around these days sine Andy Martin buggered off into the sunset.
Some may say that Danny Hay’s unfiltered ambition for this team is a little frivolous, the kind of thing that new coaches say yet don’t mean, but it’s not. It’s actually essential. We have to keep coming back to the utter irrelevance of the All Whites over the last year and a half. Nobody is going to take this team seriously if the team themselves can’t take it seriously. We’ve now got a coach who actually believes that this team can achieve things beyond what they’ve done in the past and who has the guts to see that through. That enthusiasm empowers players, it brings the spark back into the squad. And, you know, at the very least it’s way more fun to try for something great and fall short than to settle for the lowest possible pass mark and risk nothing more. Anthony Hudson didn’t get us to the World Cup. Fritz Schmid didn’t even try. We’ve done it that way before and now it’s time for something fresh.
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