Thanks for the memories, Ricki
Ricki Herbert is about to go the way of most international coaches – booted out with hardly a thank you.
Yet Herbert has led New Zealand football through a heady era.
He has coached the All Whites since 2005.
The highlight was when they qualified for the 2010 World Cup. Who’ll ever forget that magic night in Wellington when a 1-0 win over Bahrain got them through?
At the World Cup in South Africa, the All Whites were unbeaten, even drawing with mighty Italy. Herbert was the toast of New Zealand football.
On the club scene, he was at the helm of the Phoenix from 2007 till 2012, ushering in a new age of professional football here.
Wellingtonians warmly embraced the Aucklander, honouring him with all sorts of sports awards.
But the Herbert era has wound down.
He lost the coaching job at the Phoenix last year and clearly his time with the All Whites is up, too.
It was unacceptable not qualifying for the Confederations Cup last year after an embarrassing 2-0 defeat by New Caledonia in Honiara. He barely survived that debacle.
And New Zealand’s showing in the first World Cup play-off, in Mexico City, last week was equally feeble. The 5- 1 score was bad enough, but the inept way the All Whites played made it worse.
Herbert wasn’t out there losing possession, misfiring passes or making poor decisions.
And I’m sure he would have loved a better build-up for his team than what New Zealand Football gave him.
But the coach is always the first to get the chop. New Zealand Football has already announced it will be advertising Herbert’s position, and it wasn’t saying that after the last World Cup.
I’ve always had tremendous admiration for Herbert, the quintessential battler.
He tried to sign for Middlesbrough in 1979 and Southampton in 1982 and was rebuffed each time. Finally, in 1984 second division Wolverhampton Wanderers signed him.
He was with Wolves for three years. During that period, Wolves had a horror winless patch of 21 matches. So Herbert has known ups and downs.
He broke into John Adshead’s All Whites in 1980 and played all 15 qualifying games before the 1982 World Cup.
Yet he was relegated to the reserves for the first World Cup match, against Scotland. Tears streaming down his face, he sat beside his captain, Steve Sumner, on the team bus, wondering why he’d been treated so.
He fought back, eventually starting against Brazil and the Soviet Union at that World Cup.
Herbert was always dependable – ‘‘A tidy mind,’’ Adshead said – but seemed to lack the required aggression for a top defender.
So he set about learning to tackle harder.
He always strove improve his game.
His biggest coaching influence was flamboyant Scotsman Tommy Docherty, who guided him at Sydney Olympic.
Docherty once said of a player: ‘‘ He traps the ball further than most players can kick it.’’
Herbert would never engage in that sort of extravagant statement, yet he learnt plenty from Docherty and became a fine coach.
There’s a palpable antiHerbert sentiment at present. New Zealand football fans are understandably wounded by that abysmal effort in Mexico.
But let’s think a bit bigger and reflect on all the good times Herbert has given New Zealand football.
He deserves that.
Moving on: Ricki Herbert’s time as All Whites coach is up.