A-League: Wellington Phoenix primed for statement season

  • 01/01/2021

By Felicity Reid RNZ

When times get tough during the 2020/21 A-League season the Wellington Phoenix will can call on the close bonds developed during a unique pre-season to reassure and reprimand each other, according to assistant coach Chris Greenacre.

The new-look Phoenix finally kick-off their campaign against defending champions Sydney FC on Saturday.

The Phoenix were scheduled to play the Brisbane Roar on December 29 but a COVID-19 outbreak in Sydney's northern beaches in December forced the A-League to rethink the draw as state borders closed.

In total five Phoenix fixtures were impacted by the changes with games against Victorian sides Western United on 12 January, Melbourne Victory on January 16 and Melbourne City on January 22 as well as Perth Glory on January 27 all postponed until later in the season.

Greenacre said the changing COVID-19  situation and protocols were something the squad had become accustomed to.

"We've all been very aware of what's going on, the players have been very cautious in their habits and what they're doing and where they're going but it hasn't effected our preparation whatsoever," Greenacre said.

One added COVID-19 complication was the delayed arrival of the club's marquee signing, Israeli international Tomer Hemed, who has only trained with his new teammates for a short period of time.

On his arrival in to Australia, Hemed said he wanted to score goals and be a positive influence in the dressing room.

Two things the Phoenix squad needed after the exit of several players in the off-season.

Prior to joining the Phoenix, Hemed was working on his fitness with a private coach in London to make sure he showed up in Australia in top shape.

But after the required two weeks in quarantine it is unlikely the former English Premier League and La Liga player will be playing against Sydney FC and he said he expected to be ready for the Phoenix's second game on January 9.

English striker David Ball.
English striker David Ball. Photo credit: Getty

Greenacre said Hemed was a good fit for the club on and off the pitch.

"He's come in and adds a vital piece of the jigsaw with lots of valuable experience that will rub off on the players that haven't got that experience," Greenacre said.

"Often that's quite a good ingredient that you have within squads that the experienced players are passing on that detail to the younger players and is often a recipe for success."

Greenacre stopped short of publicly stating what was expected of the players this season but he suggested a plan mapped out behind closed doors forced players to take personal responsibility for their performances and had a touch of an us against them mentality.

"We've had a private meeting with the squad and they've set out their expectations of where they want to be, it's not something I probably want to divulge with anyone, but we've really put the lines on the players and the demands that they want to put on each other and ultimately if they're willing to work hard enough to achieve those goals there is no reason why they can't.

"They're really going to drive each other to those standards and those goals and that's something we'd probably keep pretty private because you don't always get what you probably deserve, but we are capable of doing well this year and showing teams what we are about."

Despite achieving the club's best A-League finish - third place - last season, Greenacre said the Phoenix still were not among the pundits top picks.

"Other people within the game don't give us any credit and it's something we can certainly use to go under the radar and really make an impact on the season."

New club captain Ulises Davila came into the 2020/21 season with an additional layer of responsibility.

The Mexican midfielder arrived at the club in 2019 and was the club's leading goal-scorer with 12 goals last season.

When he was named as captain he said he would lead by example.

"I've told the players that this is our season and our time, so we all need to work as hard as possible and to be better than we were last season - but we also need to enjoy ourselves out on the pitch each match and just appreciate each moment as it comes," Davila said.

Greenacre, who scored 19 goals in 84 appearances for the Phoenix as a player, acknowledged the need to spread the scoring load if the team is going to be successful this season but was confident that Davila would cope with the responsibility of wearing the captain's armband and finding the back of the net.

"He's well and truly aware of what it means to lead this team and if it means he's got that weight on his shoulders to provide the goals he's more than capable of doing that," Greenacre said.

"He's scored a lot of goals for us last year but also it's not just about Uli scoring goals there is a responsibility for other players in the team, the other attacking midfield players, the other strikers, even the defenders to contribute to that goal scoring tally.

"He did a lot of it on his own last year but everyone will be working really hard to try and supplement that and score the goals that he did and if we can get more people scoring goals throughout the team it's less of a burden on Uli."

The arrival of Hemed should provide the Phoenix with another goal scoring option once he takes the field and the 33-year-old said the team's dual-striker role appealed to him.

"I want to be the guy that scores the goals that maybe the team missed last season," Hemed said.

Englishman David Ball is also back for his second season with the Phoenix and the experienced striker, who was the second most prolific in front of goal last season, will again be joined by Jaushua Sotirio up front but the team will be missing the goal scoring abilities of Gary Hooper and Liberato Cacace who left the club during the off-season.