Why Wellington Phoenix made a mistake choosing Alex Rufer as captain

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Wellington Phoenix fans have been debating whether Alex Rufer should be the current captain and there are some compelling reasons why it seems the Nix made the wrong call giving him the armband.

Your captain doesn’t need to be your team’s best player but they certainly need to be one who will start week in and week out. More often than not, they will also see out 90 minutes while putting in a solid performance.

Rufer was chosen for his strong leadership (obviously) and he is always vocal on the pitch as a captain should be, but the crucial question now is – should he be starting?

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That same question was asked by fans last year after the Nix got off to a horrible start, winning just one of their first eight games. 

This question was answered midway through the season when Rufer and others were dropped to the bench by coach Ufuk Talay in round 15.

So when picking a new captain for the 2021/22 season why did the Nix choose a player that was legitimately benched last season? Not only this, but the benching worked! In terms of winning games, Wellington found great success when Rufer was not in the first 11.

Let me throw some numbers your way.

In the 30 games Wellington has played since the beginning of last season, Rufer has started 20 and has either been on the bench or not in the line-up for the other 10.

In the 20 games he has started, the Nix have lost 10 games, drawn five and won five. In the 10 matches that he hasn’t, Wellington have won five games, drawn four and only lost once.

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Now, one player does not make or break a team, but if you are looking at how the Nix perform in terms of purely winning or losing, the numbers prove that over the last year Wellington achieve better results when Rufer is not on the pitch.

Under his leadership, Wellington has already lost their coveted unbeaten streak and they were also just blown out 4-0 by a previously winless Newcastle Jets side.

It is still early days, but just like last season, it is looking like Talay will have to play around with his starting line-up to find out what works if his young side is to have a shot at finals football.

This is not a call to just go and drop Rufer but the dilemma the Phoenix now face is that while he wears the armband he is the only player who is technically a lock to start each week.

Even if Nix coach Talay just wanted to trial a new midfield combination for one game he would be forced to drop a player such as Clayton Lewis, who has been a locked-in starter since the beginning of Wellington’s 13-game unbeaten run.

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It would have made more sense to choose a captain who was and is never even going to be considered anything but a starter. Unfortunately, this isn’t the reality for Rufer and we know this because of what happened last year.

Of course, things have changed since then including the departure of starting midfielder Cameron Devlin, meaning that Rufer’s spot in the starting line-up became available again.  

However, only four weeks in and some Wellington Phoenix fans have already started debating if a player like David Ball should have been given the nod to lead the Nix over the 25-year-old Kiwi.

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Ball, who is not only very experienced but has also won a Wellington Phoenix player of the year award, has only ever found himself on the bench once and that was when he just joined the team.

As mentioned, a captain is not solely determined by stats, analytics and awards but they should play a part. 

Rufer has played 92 games in the A-League Men, generally as a midfielder, and is still yet to score. He has also only logged six assists in those 92 appearances. 

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If the losses continue to pile up for Wellington, Talay is more than likely to look at altering his starting line-up as he did last time out. Whether he is forced to re-evaluate the midfield and Rufer’s position in the starting 11 is yet to be seen.

This would be the worst-case scenario for both Wellington and Rufer himself. He can’t be benched without having the captaincy taken off him at the same time. Each player handles these things differently but at a minimum, his confidence will be dashed.

Avoiding this scenario is why it would have been beneficial for the Phoenix to pick another captain in the first place. However, what is done is done and now it will just be a waiting game to see if Rufer not only keeps the armband, but also his starting spot.

Feature Image Credit: Cameron Mclntosh

Statistics: Ultimate A-League & Transfermarkt & Info-Gol 

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Harry Bartle
Harry Bartle
Harry is a young Journalist based in Wellington. He will be covering the Wellington Phoenix during the 2021/22 season for the Football Sack and has a love hate relationship with Ulises Davila

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