Wellington Phoenix are a club very much at a crossroads. The Nix are one of only a handful of professional teams in world football that compete in a league of a different football confederation. However, there is a growing question mark over Wellington’s future in Australia’s A League. Since 2007, the Nix have competed in Australia’s top division, but it was some eight years ago since they were regarded serious challengers. They became the first New Zealand side to qualify for the playoffs of an Australian football competition. However since then the team has undergone drama upon drama and appears somewhat rudderless following the recent departure of manager Darije Kalezic.

Back in 2010, New Zealand’s sole professional football club only narrowly avoided liquidation. Phoenix had unpaid levies owed to the Accident Compensation Corporation, which the club disputed. Unfortunate cashflow problems meant a payment of AU$49,718 was missed, leading to the club being faced with liquidation proceedings. The matter was eventually dealt with and a check for the outstanding balance paid to the ACC. Nevertheless, the Nix are a club with one of the lowest budgets in the A-League and their lack of financial clout has seen some figures within Australian football question the club’s future.

Wellington were granted a 10-year licence to continue playing in the A League in 2016 by Football Federation Australia (FFA), but former Sydney FC and Adelaide United boss John Kosmina believes the fact that Wellington are “not really causing any threats to anyone” is not really “doing Australian football any favours”. Those scathing comments made on Fox Sports’ Sunday Shootout might be tinged with a little jealousy given that Kosmina’s current side Brisbane City are knocking on the door for A League inclusion. However it’s impossible to ignore the fact that the Nix find themselves three points adrift at the foot of the table and a whopping 35 points behind league leaders Sydney FC. Crowds are waning at the Westpac Stadium too, with average attendances down from a high of 11,683 in 2007-08 to just 6,211 in 2016-17. Subsequently, the club is now the worst-supported in the A League.

Ultimately the club’s hierarchy need to decide the path they wish to go down before employing Kalezic’s successor. When the club was founded 11 years ago under the leadership of Ricki Herbert, it was clear that the Nix was not only maintaining an element of professional football in New Zealand but underpinning the national squad too. The squad had a core of Kiwi talent, before enticing a cluster of Australian-based players and foreign imports to Wellington. Initially, they gelled well and despite not being a side that was easy on the eye, they ground teams down and certainly made teams appreciate they were in a game.

That underdog spirit has been lost as the years have elapsed. The ‘Cake Tin’ is no longer the fortress it once was, and this year’s wooden spoon looks nailed on unless they can overhaul Central Coast Mariners at the last minute. But with 14 players out of contract at the end of this season, the time seems right for a root and branch overhaul. A renewed focus on Kiwi potential would certainly regain Wellington’s identity, but patience is wearing thin throughout the A League and it may just be too little too late.

Feature image credit: Hamedog

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