Henry Rounce: What's next for Wellington Phoenix after Mark Rudan's revolution?

OPINION:  As far as revolutions go, this has been a short one.

Wellington Phoenix coach Mark Rudan is leaving at the end of the A-League season, heading back to Australia to reunite with his family and leaving his grand plans only partially finished.

His decision isn't a surprise. Rudan regularly acknowledged how difficult it was being away from his family and although the club tried everything to make it work, they couldn’t find a resolution, save relocating the 'Nix to his Sydney backyard.

And so the Phoenix will watch forlornly, as their leader packs up his belongings and, most likely, joins an enemy club across the Tasman.

The 43-year old arrived in the capital to a barren and troubled football battleground.

The club was recovering from a dreadful season, where assistant coach Rado Vidosic and son Dario walked out, with head coach Darije Kalezic not far behind.

The Phoenix were being shredded by pundits across the ditch, haunted by 'metrics' and an uncertain future.

Most uprisings start with injustice and an unquenchable thirst for change. Rudan fuelled his revolution and overthrew the Phoenix with words.

He was bullish as soon as he arrived, promising to launch himself into the challenge and introduce a new recipe for the Cake Tin.

Thankfully for the Phoenix, his words thundered around the club and into every player. Everyone had to earn their place, no-one was safe.

So it proved. Midfielder Alex Rufer, trapped on the bench for most of his career, turned into a snappy, savvy distributor.

Liberato Cacace.
Phoenix left-back Liberato Cacace. Photo credit: Photosport

Left-back Liberato Cacace surged back and forward with an endless hunger. Attacking midfielder Sapreet Singh darted and weaved, played passes only he could see and constructed patterns of play with his instinctive left foot. 

After contemplating retirement, club icon Andrew Durante produced the best form of his career, Roy Krishna smashed home goals with regularity, and Filip Kurto dived and danced across the penalty box. 

Earlier this season, when Rufer proclaimed he was willing to "die for the shirt", it was fitting. 

How could his players not respond to Rudan's rugged renaissance?

He was there in black on the touchline, gesturing at the ref, roaring in front of the 'Yellow Fever', screaming orders in the pouring rain, patting his players on the back and urging them to make the next insurmountable run.

His passion for the team, the sport and seemingly New Zealand was threaded through him.

Rudan challenged New Zealand Football to get their "house in order" and helped pull in the club's largest regular-season crowd at Eden Park.

He spoke mournfully after the Christchurch attacks in March, barely touching on the game and speaking of his sorrow instead.

While guaranteeing them a spot in the upcoming playoffs is a brilliant achievement, his best is simply making people care about the Phoenix again.

He apologised profusely to the fans during Wednesday's press conference on his impending departure, although he can surely expect a fond farewell over the last few weeks.

The Phoenix must now prepare for the future.

Rudan could take a couple of key soldiers with him, including Kurto and possibly sharpshooter - aside from the last two weeks - David Williams.

There is no rush to find his replacement, with a beefy off-season stretching ahead of them. At least, for once, assistant coach Chris Greenacre won't be thrown into the caretaker role and back out again.

This has been a golden age for the Phoenix and their long-suffering fans, but they can't afford to let the foundations Rudan built be swept away in the howling Wellington wind.

Rudan has unquestionably left the club in a better place, no matter what you think of his decision to leave.

He's been every much the scheming wordsmith, as the first member of the cavalry charging into confrontation.

Yet the revolution will soon be over. The Phoenix must ensure it's a while before the empire falls again.

Henry Rounce is a Newshub sports reporter.

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