Tuesday, April 4, 2006

Kiwis test Aussie patience

Following a dismal opening Hyundai A-League season, saying the New Zealand Knights lack credibility is somewhat of an understatement. Now, as if finishing a hefty 20 points adrift at the foot of the table in a 21-round competition wasn’t trying enough, the Kiwi franchise have continued to snub their noses at the Australian-based football authorities.

The Knights should exercise caution. Football Federation Australia (FFA) officials are hard taskmasters and although they view a New Zealand representative as a vital component to their thriving A-League, they have made it quite clear they'll not tolerate the consistent under-performance of yesteryear. The Knights' predecessors in the top-flight - the dubiously named Auckland Kingz - were a complete flop in the former national league. Poorly supported from the stands to the boardroom, they drifted into oblivion with the termination of the old regime.

Today's New Zealand offering are certainly more ambitious than the Kingz but a summary of results in their first 12 months hardly makes comfortable reading. The team produced a solitary win in the inaugural season and that away on the Central Coast denying a meagre local support even a glimpse of a home win. Gates were paltry in contrast to Australia's booming attendances, averaging under 4000 for the season and slipping to around 3000 as all bar the hardcore support voted with their feet.

For FFA Head of Operations Matt Carroll, a repeat is unthinkable. The steely Carroll recently even went as far as to suggest to the New Zealand Herald that he would not be concerned if "the Knights were the All Whites [New Zealand's national team] in a different strip".

"We are not saying they have to put out a team good enough to win the league but they have to be competitive," Carroll told the New Zealand daily. "And we have yet to see any signs of that.

"We would not look too hard if they showed us at least something with a largely New Zealand-based team. But we will not look too kindly if there is a repeat of what we saw this season.

"Ultimately we would like to see half their playing roster from New Zealand."

But it seems the Knights' English-born management duo of John Adshead and Paul Nevin are unfussed by Carroll's remarks. Nevin - himself a target following his recent emigration from London after a stint in charge of Fulham's reserves - rubbished the theory of selecting a squad based on their nationality. "We cannot justify another losing season simply by the inclusion of New Zealand players for the sake of their passport," he countered.

Indeed, rather than encouraging current All Whites home from Europe, the Knights have so far been happy to lower their Kiwi stocks. Current national team midfielders Jeremy Christie and Jeremy Brockie have departed the beleaguered club for Perth Glory and Sydney FC respectively. And the Knights recently lost out on star winger Leo Bertos who opted for a move to Perth after discussing his options with former Knights captain Danny Hay. Hay left John Adshead's side in acrimonious circumstances last season and clearly did his level best to paint his new club in the best possible light.

New Zealand's acquisitions to date are - to the surprise of many including Carroll - a pair of Australians. But, despite criticism from some quarters, Michael Turnbull and Richard Johnson will undoubtedly boost the Knights respectability on the pitch. Johnson, a 31-year ex-Socceroo midfield workhorse, enjoyed a stellar season with the Newcastle Jets before leaving after failing to agree a long-term deal. Meanwhile, goalkeeper Turnbull is a former Australian under-23 international who travelled with the party to the Athens Olympics.

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