Wellington Phoenix skipper Alex Rufer has revealed the pain of leading his team through one of the most turbulent periods in the club's history.
The captain admits he's underperformed this season and hopes to wipe the slate clean on Friday, when the ‘Nix return to A-League action, after nearly three weeks sidelined by COVID-19
He may wear it on his sleeve, but the captain’s armband weighs heavily on Rufer’s shoulders.
"For me personally, it's been a little bit up and down," he says.
The 25-year old was chosen to lead the side this season, after nearly a decade at the club, but the responsibility has taken some adjusting to.
"I'm trying to be the best version of myself, which has been frustrating, because in a couple games, I haven't been the best version of me."
At times, the defensive midfielder has paid the price. Rufer was subbed off at half-time of their last outing, when they fell to a 4-0 defeat against Adelaide.
"It's not from a lack of trying," he laments. "I try my best every day, I try my best to be a leader and to be me."
Phoenix coach Ufuk Talay has seen the toll leadership has taken on his captain.
"I put a lot of weight on his shoulders by giving him the armband this season, so there's a lot of expectation," says Talay. "I have a lot of expectation of him, so for me, it's up to him to step up and I think he has the attributes to do that."
Rufer was one of 19 players struck down with COVID-19 and the time on the sidelines has given him a fresh perspective.
"It's a challenge that I’m up for, so it's going to be a good year," he says. "I’m confident we can turn this season around."
The Phoenix hope to notch up just their second win of the campaign against Western United on Friday.