Darije Kalezic having a good shout (Photo:Mark Tantrum/Getty Images)

Cheat Sheet: Can anyone save the Wellington Phoenix?

Welcome to the Cheat Sheet, a clickable, shareable, bite-sized FAQ on the news of the moment. Today, Alex Braae takes a look at a comically bad season for the Wellington Phoenix, who’ve just fired their coach, Darije Kalezic.

Who?

Kalezic is a Swiss/Bosnian/Dutch journeyman who arrived at the Wellington Phoenix at the start of the season with promises of a “new vision” – attractive Dutch total football combined with iron discipline. As of this morning, he’s off at the end of the season. The team is likely to finish in last place of the A-League, after playing with neither Dutch creativity nor any type of discipline whatsover over the season.

No, I meant who are the Phoenix? Does that team still exist?

Sadly for New Zealand sports fans, the Phoenix do in fact still exist.

So why is the coach out?

According to a statement, he and the club agreed to part ways after being unable to agree on how to proceed forward next season. Presumably both parties agreed that actually winning some games was a good goal for next season, so it may be that the horror year the club’s had played a part.

What horrors?

The club lost father-son coach-player duo Rado and Dario Vidusic in December, after reports that they had been unhappy for weeks. Both had arrived at the club at the start of the season, and Dario Vidusic actually scored quite a few goals for the club. They also lost Brazilian midfielder Gui Finkler. There were reports that the remarkable Roy Krishna also wanted to leave. Fortunately for the club Krishna’s signed on for another year, which means they’ll be able to lose games 3-2 rather than 3-0. The defensive line has had an awful year this year, leaving the Nix with the worst goal difference, and worst equal tally of conceded goals, in the A-League. In fact, Kalezic was pretty harsh on his own players as the season wore on, knocking them in press conferences after particularly pathetic performances.

Surely the fans are still turning up and supporting them?

Not really, no. The Phoenix have the lowest attendances in the A-League by quite some margin, and by and large they’re moving in the wrong direction. About 6,200 people on average turned up to each game last season. Reports indicate it’s not really any better this season. On the bright side, the Yellow Fever supporters club still seem committed, the beer at Westpac Stadium is good (Garage Project!) and the seats are all yellow so it’s harder to tell if anyone’s there or not. They also hold a place as one of the few professional sports teams in the country (outside of rugby, cricket and netball) to play outside of Auckland.

How are the fans taking the news of Kalezic’s departure?

Pretty well it seems, in fact, really really well. It’s an imperfect science, but reading through threads on Twitter in response to leading lights of NZ Football journalism, like Jason Pine and Andrew Voerman, it would be hard to say anyone’s in mourning. It never got to the ‘Wenger out’ stage of fan discontent, but that’s probably because there wasn’t time. Perhaps the tastiest response to the news came from the departed Gui Finkler himself.


It’s a good thing they’ve got time on their side to turn it around then.

Actually, they don’t. In 2015 the Football Federation Australia declined to renew their license, only relenting in the face of a groundswell of nationwide support, and hugely improved crowd numbers. But the extension, granted in 2016, only guaranteed four more years, with two more three year blocks to be approved. The drums are always beating over the ditch for the Phoenix to be dropped, mainly on the grounds that they don’t really belong in an Australian competition. While the Breakers win games and trophies in the NBL, and the Warriors genuinely expand the NRL’s market, the Nix don’t really come up with the goods on either count. If the Phoenix can’t win more next season, and the license removal gets threatened again, it feels a lot less likely supporters would bother turning up to save them.

It doesn’t sound like it could get any worse.

Actually, it could. Once upon a time, a team called the New Zealand Knights existed. They got whopping 3,000 strong crowds in Auckland, and in two seasons won a grand total of 6 games. Their execution from the A-League paved the way for the Phoenix to rise from the ashes. (No, literally, that was the reason why the name was chosen.)

Back to the coach then. Who’ll replace Darije Kalezic?

There’s one name that gets thrown around a lot by football fans in New Zealand for any big coaching job – Ramon Tribulietx. He’s led Auckland City FC to repeated appearances at the Club World Cup, but remarkably has actually won games against top international opposition, including a memorable 3rd place finish in the tournament in 2014. ACFC are currently tearing all opposition to pieces in the admittedly weak Oceania Champions League. However, Tribulietx lacked the coaching license required when the All Whites job went up for grabs, so that may rule him out for the Phoenix too. And Stuff’s Liam Hyslop is reporting that the club is sounding out Australian football great Aurelio Vidmar to take over, and have been doing so since before today’s announcement about Kalezic.

The last word

Watching the Phoenix lose is still more entertaining than watching the Warriors lose. For that reason alone, here’s hoping they survive.

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