Herbert hits back at local quota

IT IS not so much a case of "show me the money" but "show me the players" as Ricki Herbert hits back at critics who say he has ignored local players in fashioning his Wellington Phoenix squad. And he puts much of the blame on ASB Premiership coaches.

Preparing for today's historic first Hyundai A-League game at Eden Park against Adelaide United, Herbert says he would happily recruit more local talent but only if they can show they are up to the demands of playing at the higher level.

Until then, as will be seen in today's game, A-League clubs will continue to bolster their rosters with "imports" or marquee players - of which the Phoenix do not have any while Adelaide have Dario Vidosic as their Australian and Sergio van Dijk as their international in that category.

"The path to professional football is not easy," warned Herbert. "Only the very best will make the grade.

"We have to get the process right. I would like nothing more than to give New Zealand players a shot but I have never had one phone call from a coach saying I have such and such a player who might be worth a look," said Herbert.

"To be fair, at the present time we do not have a second team or an academy at the Phoenix but that will come - and reasonably soon.

"Football federation Australia have made it clear they are going to reduce the number of 'imports' in the A-League. I believe it will reduce from five to four next year and then to three which will make the recruitment of New Zealand players vital for the club.

"But to do that we have to do something to improve the standard of New Zealand players in domestic football," said Herbert. "At this stage there are probably more foreign players in ASB Premiership sides than we have at the Phoenix. To be fair, I am wondering where are we going to get these players from.

"Players like Marco Rojas, Shane Smeltz, Kosta Barbarouses, Jeremy Brockie and Glen Moss who have come through a professional club in New Zealand before heading elsewhere. The Phoenix should be inheriting more players like this who are ready to show they are capable of playing at this level but we are not.

"You have to ask what is happening to those players who go off and play in under-17 or under-20 World Cups. Some do keep playing here while others might go off to an American university which is fine but too many just drop through the cracks when there is a real opportunity for those who show they are up to it.

"My advice to these young players is stay where you are, keep playing and show us you are capable of stepping up and when the opportunity to spend time with us arises be ready for it.

"Only when they come into a professional environment and can train every day will we, and they, know if they are good enough," said Herbert. "One or two might, like Rojas and Barbarouses, get a contract."

In the meantime, Herbert's focus is very much on tomorrow's game which he and his players definitely see as a "home" fixture even if it is the furthest they have played from their real home.

"We are all looking forward to it especially coming so soon after the Rugby World Cup final," said Herbert. As a bonus, the team will get to train at Eden Park today. "Usually when we train the day before a game it is at a training ground somewhere else so this will be something different."

On criticism of the tactics employed against runaway leaders Brisbane Roar at Suncorp Stadium, Herbert was quick to defend his players.

"We went there with a game plan against a team who hadn't been beaten in 33 matches and who had beaten Adelaide 7-1 in their previous game at Suncorp. It might not have been pretty in the eyes of the purists but we achieved what we set out to do and got what we wanted.

"It was no different than what happened the previous week when we had 11 scoring opportunities in the first half against Melbourne and didn't convert any. Was anyone knocking Melbourne for defending in the way they did?"

Today's game will be another test for a team who went into last week's game at the bottom of the table. They clawed their way up a place and know a win in their seventh game of the season would take them above seventh-placed Adelaide and back into the play-off mix.

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