It has been a busy period for Gareth Morgan over the Christmas Break. He has decided how he wants the football club his consortium owns to go about its business, and he’s come up against a wall of people who think they have more of a right to make such decisions.
Late last year it was revealed that Welnix wanted to change to direction of the way the team played. Morgan is an economist so he knows a bit financial modelling and forecasting. He had sat down and worked out that the teams winning the A-League over recent years were the ones playing possession based football.
So the plan was obvious; change the way the Phoenix play the game with the double benefit of a more attractive style bringing in the crowds as well as, ultimately, a more successful side which also brings in the punters.
One of the issues facing the Phoenix side is that the A-League itself gets stronger each year. With this improved quality of football, and its growing status as an attractive place for genuine world class players to retire, it means the Phoenix will slide if it carries on with what has brought some success in the past.
Sometimes it takes a fresh pair of eyes.
But this has been a vision that’s proving to be difficult to sell, as the knockers have quickly circled the wagons.
After Christmas, the Phoenix overturned an early two goal deficit to defeat the Melbourne Heart 3-2 at home. It was not perfect football but it was a spirited fightback and they laid siege on the Heart goal throughout the second half.
The next day in the local paper the focus was on the negative, how they got two goals behind in the first place, and the absence of The Beautiful Game in getting the win.
Morgan rightly came out and noted that this was hardly great support, and contrasted it with the Newcastle paper that on the same day had triumphed a home team fightback that actually ended in defeat.
The relationship between the Phoenix and the Dominion Post has always been a strained one; even more so when owned by Terry Seripisos. Although you would not want sycophantic reporting he had a point in that the Knocking Machine even on the back doorstep is well oiled and active.
But he was told to put a sock in it, concentrate on making the club better and to keep his opinions to himself. A lot of this criticism came from people covering other sports in the New Zealand media such as tennis. Irony does not come any thicker than that.
And scare stories about Morgan sitting on the sidelines are just plain weird. He owns the club; why wouldn’t he?
So the frustration in Morgan grew as the concept that this policy would take some time to produce benefit seemed surprisingly hard for fans and media to grasp. This is despite that fact that the Melbourne Victory, two years ahead of the Phoenix in the programme, are now gaining the rewards from appointing Ange Postecoglou as manager in order to revolutionise their playing style.
So he lashed out at this impatience by calling those rejecting change “pathetic, ignorant of football, and unsophisticated.
It was the last comment that really wound people up. Willington the city has carefully crafted an image in recent years of being the Arts hub, movie making paradise with the best restaurants and cafes in the country. To be called unsophisticated really pushed the buttons.
And when people are outraged they reach for the hyperbole. Even The Truth last week sought comment from a recently sacked player renowned for questions over his work ethic. What would you expect him to say?
The concept that the Phoenix could try and play like Barcelona, despite the fact that Morgan never actually said that, seems to be genuinely scaring people. And of course nobody is saying they need to play like Barcelona; there is an enormous amount of middle ground to work with.
As an aside, Barcelona do not play Total Football, they play a style known as tikataka which is even trickier to master. It was the Dutch team of the 1970s that introduced total football. To confuse the two indicates that Morgan may have a point when he talks about a lack of knowledge.
Good things take time, so give what Morgan is trying to achieve some patience, because to do nothing is the bigger failure.
Finally, he is spot on when it comes to cats too.