Inside Mark Rudan’s head

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The news that Wellington Phoenix coach Mark Rudan would be leaving at the end of the A-League season enraged me.

After everything – a full year of Darjie Kalezic, trying to move the club to Campbelltown, and the FFA being desperate to kick the club out – the Nix had finally hit some success. And then, it seemed that success would be snatched from us. And all thanks to a man who didn’t care about contracts.

There may or may not have been a punching of a pillow involved in my frustration.

Given all this, I went into Rudan’s press conference earlier this week only expecting this anger to rise.

But what happened stunned me. For 42 minutes, I sat and watched as a clearly shaken Phoenix boss speak with complete apologetic honesty.

First things first, Rudan has a family that lives across the sea from him. A family without a father. Rudan needed them, and they needed Rudan.

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“You can WhatsApp, FaceTime or Skype as much as you want, but at the end of the day a dad’s gotta be a dad, put his arm around his kids, be there for his family,” he said.

“He’s got to be there for the family and I’ve missed that, and I don’t want to miss that again.”

The Sydney FC legend also didn’t hold back from stressing how much he loved Wellington and the Phoenix, and how he had so desperately wanted to make things work for everyone involved.

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“It wasn’t my intention to lead anyone on. I was just very confused about what to do. But it got to a point where it puts a strain on your relationship, it really does. I’m tied here but my family is over there and we had some tough, heated discussions about it all.

“I was in a different headspace [to my family] because of how attached I am to Wellington and this football club. I kept thinking in the back of my mind that I would find a way and the means to get them to Wellington, but I think I was lying to myself.

“My job as the leader of this football club is to come here every day and put on a good face, and be that strong leader that my players and my staff need. But the nights got longer, and when you come home from work, they’re tough. You’ve gotta try to go to bed with all of those issues in your head, but then you’ve got to come to work with clarity and a clear mind.”

Then Rudan revealed something deeply personal.

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“I’ve got a son who’s a type one diabetic. He’s insulin dependent. He’s had that for ten years. It’s not easy, you need a support network around you. I don’t talk about these sorts of things, they are all personal issues, but they are things that a family talks about, and I’m not there for that. My wife hasn’t slept eight hours a night for ten years, as she’s constantly checking his BGL levels, and testing him and things like that.”

That’s not something that many people would say in a press conference for a football club. But it shows just how open Rudan is willing to be. Just how sorry he is. A lesser man might have just told the media that there were family issues and left at that. Ambiguous. But not Rudan.

The final thing that made me realise just how tough Rudan has it was something personal for me. I’m 15, a similar age to Rudan’s kids. The former centre back is asking them to move to a foreign country leave all of their friends, support circles, everything they’ve known behind. There’s no way in hell I would want to do that. And I can’t begrudge Rudan’s family for not wanting to either.

Expansion club Western United has been linked with Rudan, and the 43-year-old is widely tipped to be Western’s inaugural head coach. This has further disgruntled Phoenix fans, and the ex Sydney United 58 coach was asked about it.

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“I’m a professional coach, I love what I do. Where will I be? I don’t know. I may shock you all and not do anything for a year.”

But, should the ex-Sydney FC player join Western United, another matter frustration is the risk that he may poach some of Wellington’s top performers, such as David Williams or Filip Kurto. Rudan has gotten the best out of them, so why wouldn’t they follow Rudan?

So, what has Rudan done for the Phoenix? He saved this football club. At the start of the season, the FFA were clamouring for us to be kicked out. We had owners trying to move the club. But since we hired the Sydney-born Australian? As Rudan said, the Phoenix have become the second team for a lot of Aussies. The Nix’s crowds and TV ratings are up, a feat that no other side bar Perth has been able to do this season. Mark Rudan is the best thing to ever happen to the Wellington Phoenix.

Finally, something Rudan stressed again and again was that he was sorry. I lost count of how many times he said it. And we could tell he meant it. He loves this football club, and if he could have had it his way, Mark Rudan would be staying.

So it’s time for Wellington’s football community to appreciate what Rudan has done for the club. When the Nix play Melbourne City on Sunday, let’s not boo him onto the pitch, let’s cheer him on. This great ride that we’ve had over the past year is coming to an end, so let’s enjoy it’s last moments.

Featured image credit: Ngau Kai Yan

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Dan Moskovitz
The Football Sack's resident teen kiwi football nut. Loves everything football except defeats.