Football in New Zealand is on the up and with the country already priming itself for the 2014 World Cup, the continuity of a coach has been maintained. Fernando Battaglia looks at a blossoming reputation.
A handshake on a football stadium in Johannesburg has been made official, as Ricki Herbert on Monday signed a four-year agreement with New Zealand football to manage New Zealand through the 2014 World Cup qualifiers.
Significantly, NZ Football has also received permission from the Wellington Phoenix to be able to count on Herbert during All Whites matches and preparation, even if the Phoenix are playing. Herbert will continue to manage the Wellington club for the foreseeable future.
The news is hardly a surprise, after the All Whites’ performance in South Africa. Herbert has led the team through an important series of firsts: first qualification to the World Cup since 1982, first away win against a European team (Georgia, 2006), first win against a Top 20-ranked team (Serbia. 2010), first points in a FIFA World Cup.
When Herbert took over the team in 2005, he seemed an uninspiring choice due to his limited coaching pedigree. Expectations had already been lowered due to New Zealand’s inability to even make the final of the Oceania qualifiers against Australia. They were eliminated by the Solomon Islands (population: approximately 500,000; current FIFA ranking: 169th).
Herbert had been to that point a coach in the New Zealand national youth setup, including the Olympic manager for the qualifying campaign for Athens 2004, which were ultimately unsuccessful. He was also assistance manager of the senior men’s team. His managerial successes were entirely of the domestic variety, and included four Chatham Cups and four New Zealand national championships.
In many ways, he was more known as a football pundit for SKY Television, doing studio analysis. His best impressions were saved for the pitch however, as his TV appearances failed to capture his ability. One of my workmates, surprised by Herbert’s success at the World Cup, said to me, still dumbfounded, “when I saw him on TV, I thought he was a moron. Nothing he said made any sense.”
All that means is that New Zealanders are becoming acquainted with a fact well-known by football fans around the world: good managers usually make for horrendous TV.
As a player, he participated in every single match of the 15-game qualification campaign for 1982 World Cup in Spain. He started two matches in the tournament (versus Brazil and the Soviet Union) and was a sub in the other (against Scotland).
He had spells in the 80s with Southampton’s reserves and Wolverhampton Wanderers in England, neither in the top level.
Now, Herbert is finding success with two teams. His overall record with the All Whites and Wellington Phoenix is hardly inspiring: 10 wins, 13 losses, 6 draws with New Zealand; and 25 wins, 28 losses and 20 draws with the Wellington Phoenix. But it’s results in the last year that have really raised his profile. A preliminary final appearance with the Phoenix was followed by the All Whites’ surprising first round draws in the FIFA World Cup in South Africa.
Now, another World Cup qualification seems highly achievable, and even expected. If Herbert can continue his successful run, he may soon find himself the recipient of a much larger contract offer overseas.
- Speaking of the Phoenix’s record, 22 of those 25 wins under Ricki Herbert have come at home – in a row. Westpac Stadium (affectionately known as the Cake Tin, though I prefer to call it “the freezer”) in Wellington is a bit of a fortress for the Phoenix. Their home winning streak was extended this weekend with a fantastic strike for midfielder Nicky Ward who gave the Phoenix a 2-1 victory over defending A-League champions (and now last-placed) Sydney FC. Evidently, the Australians really don’t like travelling to Wellington, which actually makes the cold weather almost a pleasure to bear while watching a match.
- Miramar Rangers defeated Bay Olympic 3-1 in the Chatham Cup final to claim their fourth title. The tournament was played for the 82nd time. It is the oldest football tournament in New Zealand and is disputed by football clubs from across the country, not including members of the NZ Football Championship (now knows as the ASB Premiership) or the Wellington Phoenix, which are franchises, rather than clubs. The Cup was actually a gift from the HMS Chatham in the early 1920s in recognition of the hospitality of New Zealand to the crew of that ship. It’s similar to the FA Cup and for many years was the preeminent football tournament in NZ. It routinely involved more than 100 clubs from across the nation.
Fernando will continue to provide first class updates from New Zealand for IBWM, but if you’d like to read more from him, please visit his blog.