Trials and tribulations – a reflection on Darije Kalezić’s time at the Phoenix


“Speculated Wellington Phoenix coach Darije Kalezić has managed four teams in four years in three countries (England, Holland and Saudi Arabia” I noted back in May.

“It doesn’t exactly scream stability”

And henceforth the Swiss-born coach won’t end the season in charge of the Kiwi-based A-League franchise. As March started with the club announcing his departure.

Setting aside Kalezić’s next few weeks (it looks like he’s holding on for a payout) his reign at the Phoenix will be recorded as one of failure. And up there in the top few of poor A-League coaching tenures – think Tony Walmsley at the Mariners or Jim Magilton at the Victory.

I’d hoped Kalezić’s record coaching with, and against, A-League players in Holland plus the network he could utilise to bring in high quality imports would work in his favour. But realistically his lack of knowledge of the A-League coupled with the loss of key players in the off-season was always going to be a huge barrier to overcome.

I predicted, with a great deal of sadness, the Nix would finish last and this looks likely.

There was an array of situations this season which highlight why the 48-year-old probably wasn’t right for the role and why he’s been moved on four times now in five years as a coach.

Without trying to overthink a trial game Thursday’s announcement had me casting my mind back to when the Phoenix lost to the Central Coast in September and the two particular incidents from the match at Lisarow, just north of Gosford, which puzzled me:

-Towards the end of the game trialist Tinashe Marowa (who has since returned to New Zealand Premiership side Tasman United) was told to sit back down as he went to get up and join his teammates to warm up. That can’t be good for moral and makes no sense.

-Goalkeeping coach Fernando vaz Alves spent a period of the loss screaming at shot-stopper Lewis Italiano. At one stage Italiano (who has lost his job twice this season to other keepers) had to make a play whilst the former FFA Centre of Excellence mentor was yelling at him. Distracted Italiano fumbled and the resulting mess near the edge of the area ended up in a free kick to Paul Okon’s side. My feeling was it’s a trial why not wait until the interval or the end of the game to query whatever it was that went wrong. And certainly don’t do it when the player is well in play?

They are mere slivers of time in the season but I think they displayed how abrupt Kalezić (and his coaching staff) dealt with players.

As the season proper got rolling Kalezić’s stubbornness saw other odd scenarios.

-On New Year’s Eve chasing what would have been a winning goal in a match which ultimately finished 0-0 dynamic teenager Sarpreet Singh came on very late in the game (the fourth minute of time added one) but only after a defensive substitution when Dylan Fox entered the fray six minutes earlier. Waiting so long to make the attacking replacement, even it had come in the 88th minute, was strange in a game which needed a spark.

-Adam Parkhouse, who must be one of the best A-League players when you consider wage to output, was shifted to play on the right during the campaign at one stage. Parkhouse has often been a makeshift player but forcing the left-footed speedster to play an inverted winger role made life tough on him and forced teammates to adapt their play for the umpteenth time this season.

I’m not sure who should be the next coach. I would like Des Buckingham to be given the opportunity but I sense the time has come for Auckland City boss Ramon Tribulietx (if he can have his pro license sorted by the start of next season)

Whoever the coach, they must realise the challenge they are taking on. Ernie Merrick has done tremendous things with the Newcastle Jets since leaving the New Zealand capital, but his departure was partly due to the limitations of the role. The next coach must be cognisant of the restraints the position comes with.

Connection with the city, culture and player development in New Zealand is also key but producing on match day is fundamental.

Finally, and this is only small, but it says a lot about Kalezic’s time at the club. I don’t recall him once coming over to speak to the fans at the away games I attended. Ernie did. Ricki Herbert did. Darije didn’t. Senior players such as the club stalwart Andrew Durante (who appears set to retire at the end of the season) understood the value of this connection which I think the former Roda JC mentor never did. The All Whites defender has also passed on the values of the club to the young players.

Sarpreet Singh showed the value of the fans earlier this year in Newcastle after a rare win in high-fiving my eldest tama.

A fleeting moment of joy in a stagnant season.

The lesson from Kalezić’s time at the club is culture and understanding plus style breeds winning. The Phoenix have the club culture. The new coach must bring the understanding and style.


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