Friday, December 15, 2006

Time up for beleaguered Knights

Time up for beleaguered Knights.
The game's governing body has called time on the A-League's sole non-Australian representatives after 18 miserable months fighting for their lives at the bottom of every measure.

For many, especially those pundits favouring an all-Australian competition, it has not come a moment too soon. The New Zealand Knights have been running a constant and distant last since the club's inception from the ashes of their much-maligned predecessors the Auckland Kingz and offered few examples of turning their fortunes around.

The Kingz were treated with contempt during the final throws of the former national league due to their poor crowds and generally humdrum football. The Knights, a rebranded Kiwi alternative granted entrance to the new regime because of its supposed ability to carry the same financial clout, has also fallen some way short of the standards set by the rest.

Last season, the New Zealanders finished an abysmal 20 points behind seventh-placed Melbourne following just one win and a staggering 17 losses. They were accused of fielding too few locally-developed players and instead relying on English journeyman and unknown foreigners. Their crowds plummeted as the defeats stacked up and knew they risked the wrath of the FFA if corrective actions were not put in place.

When previous coach John Adshead - the former All Whites manager who led New Zealand to the 1982 World Cup finals - was inevitably axed, the Knights' head honchos ignored the federation's strict directives and employed another Englishman as coach. Paul Nevin was young, intelligent, highly qualified and started brightly. But he wasn't a New Zealander, and he again made blood boil at FFA headquarters by recruiting just four Kiwis in a 20-player squad.

Results dipped after some promising signs, not helped, it has to be said, by a lengthy injury list and he was axed. His interim replacement? Recently recruited director of football, Englishman Barry Simmonds. The writing was surely on the wall.

On Monday, after Simmonds made it clear he did not want the role full-time, the Knights advertised for their fourth head coach in less than two seasons against a backdrop of them languishing eight points adrift at the foot of the table.

Relations with New Zealand Soccer, the administrators of the national game, were at an all-time low, club management appeared nervy. 2039 spectators turned up to see their side grind out a 1-1 draw with Newcastle. With a $1.5 million annual salary cap to fund, the sums were quite clearly not adding up.

Under mounting speculation their licence would be withdrawn and an Australian team installed in their place next season, the Knights came out fighting. They, however, chose to bite the hand that feeds them.

"Currently, the NZ Knights are awaiting funds from the Football Federation Australia in relation to the Fox Sports broadcasting partnership with the Hyundai A-League," a club statement read. "These considerable funds (in quarterly payments) were promised to the Knights by the FFA but as of this moment are yet to be received.

"Upon receipt of those funds the NZ Knights will be in a position to continue in the Hyundai A-League. Without the promised payment the Knights participation in the Hyundai A-League is jeopardised."

If they were trying to provoke a reaction it worked. The FFA's response was swift and the blow fatal. They responded by stating insolvency issues within the beleaguered club had 'breached their Club Participation Agreement for the Hyundai A-League'. As a result, the FFA said, the Knights have had their licence revoked and returned to the governing body. An agreement, they added, had also been reached with the Knights' chief rivals New Zealand Soccer to manage the football team's operations for the remainder of the 2006-07 season.

"The action that we had to take today is disappointing as the FFA has gone to great lengths since the commencement of the league to support Octagon Sports Limited (owners of the Knights) who currently owe the FFA in excess of $800,000," said FFA head of operations Matt Carroll.

"In this context, it is disappointing that Octagon Sports Limited should suggest today that their viability is dependant on a relatively small scheduled grant being withheld by the FFA as a result of Octagon Sports Limited's long-term, multiple, serious Participation Agreement breaches."

"The action that the FFA has taken is in the best interests of the Hyundai A-League, the team, the players and football in New Zealand."

What next for the supporters and players in the land of the Long White Cloud is anybody's guess.

Copyright © Marc Fox and Soccerphile.com

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