Ufuk Talay expects much more from his experienced Phoenix players 

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Wellington Phoenix captain Alex Rufer is among a group of players who will need to step up if they want to continue playing 90 minutes each week.

Down 1-0 against Adelaide on Saturday, it came as a surprise to some Nix faithful when their team walked out to start the second half without Rufer, who instead headed towards the bench.

Rufer, along with experienced striker Jaushua Sotirio and young right-back Callan Elliot, had been subbed by coach Ufuk Talay after a pretty miserable Wellington performance during the first 45.

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Although there has been some recent claims that Rufer shouldn’t be the one leading Wellington, not many expected to see him sitting on the bench just halfway through a game.

After the match, Talay stated that any changes he made were tactical. However, while speaking to media this week, Talay also acknowledged that some of his players needed to understand that if their performances don’t improve, they can’t expect to keep their spot in the starting 11.

“I have an expectation for certain players who have been with me since day one,” he said.

“The subs I made against Adelaide were tactical, but I was also making a statement to the players. It doesn’t matter who you are, if you are not delivering what I need from you then the next guy will step in and do the job.”

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Even though Wellington still went on to lose 4-0, it seems that this statement was well and truly made when the former Sydney FC assistant coach took off his team’s key leader just 45 minutes in. 

This isn’t the first time that Rufer has been subbed off during a match, but up until Saturday evening, the 25-year-old had never been taken off the pitch as early as half-time during his short tenure as captain.

Starting attacker Sotirio, who is playing his ninth season of A-League Men’s football and his third with Wellington, was also taken off at the 45-minute mark. This was another surprising tactical sub considering he is one of Wellington’s best attacking players and the Nix were down a goal.

He is perhaps another experienced player who is in the hot seat after the loss.

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Wellington are a very young side, which is why it may be becoming increasingly more frustrating for Talay that his more accomplished players aren’t stepping up when he needs them most.

“I understand that younger players are going to be inconsistent and make mistakes, but I expect my more experienced players and those who have been with us for a while to stand up and lead the team and perform to a certain level on the pitch,” Talay said on Tuesday. 

Rufer is yet to speak to the media about the subbing so it is unknown if it has impacted his confidence in any way. In terms of the current relationship between coach and captain,  Talay kept his answer simple when asked how it currently stands.

“My relationship with every player is the same whether they are the captain or not the captain, I treat them the way I would want to be treated,” he said

“My door is always open for players to come and talk to me if they need.” 

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The growing issue for Wellington is that they have now lost four A-League Men games in a row and sit second last on the table. Not only this, but they have also been outscored 10 goals to one in these game. 

Whether there are any further ramifications for Wellington’s experienced players could be seen as early as Wednesday night when they take on Melbourne City in an FFA Cup quarter-final.

However, after Saturday’s game one thing is for certain. No matter who or how experienced you are, Talay won’t hesitate to show you the bench if he believes someone else could better help his team get across the line.

Feature Image Credit: Speed Media 

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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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