Thanks for the mem­o­ries, Ricki

Kapi-Mana News - - SPORT -

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.

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Photo: FAIR­FAX NZ

Mov­ing on: Ricki Herbert’s time as All Whites coach is up.

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