Auckland expansion remains distant hope

Previous failures dominate discussions of a possible Hyundai A-League expansion in Auckland - but there are examples of how it could work.

Previous failures dominate discussions of a possible Hyundai A-League expansion in Auckland, with local experts quick to hose down any expectations - but there are examples of how it could work.

With the Phoenix coming to town to play Perth on February 2, the question about expansion in New Zealand has resurfaced, but the problems experienced by the Football Kingz and New Zealand Knights, the ashes from which the Phoenix arose, are still raw in the minds of locals.

And veteran Auckland journalist Terry Maddaford says those same obstacles stand in the way on any New Zealand expansion enterprise, even with other codes showing the right strategy can pay off.

"History would suggest an Auckland-based side in the A-League would not succeed," Maddaford said.

"The problem with the Kingz and Knights franchises in the city occurred because their money man lived in England and was never able to achieve 'hands-on' links with the club.

"The lesson from the experiences of those two sides was that any future Auckland-based club could not go into the competition under-prepared.

"The success of the A-League, something many in Europe still don't understand, means that clubs in Australia, especially, are able to pay big money for quality players.

"Sydney FC could pay $400,000 for Joel Griffiths while Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert can buy three players for $40,000. He is working with a pittance by comparison.

"That is something New Zealand teams, no matter how well they do, are always going to have to compete with.

"It's not easy. But, the success of the Breakers [basketball], the Warriors [league] and - although they are not in the city but in the region - the Magic [netball], show that it can be done. There is support for top teams."

Maddaford suggests, however, that Auckland-based NBL side New Zealand Breakers had shown they could attract huge support when they had sugar daddy investors close at hand and not trying to operate from a distance.

But at the same time they were not attempting to employ the hands-on role that had emerged with Gareth Morgan's involvement with the Phoenix.

There was support for football in Auckland as seen by the attendance at the last Phoenix game in Auckland, against Adelaide, last year when 20,000 turned up and saw the home side score a late goal to draw the game.

"The real test for the Phoenix will come this year when they haven't been doing so well," Maddaford added.

Auckland City FC president Ivan Vuksich, who has seen his club make four FIFA club World Cups and win four ASB Premierships while also being minor premiers on two other occasions and the four-time winners of the OFC Champions League, says discussion about a possible A-League team never gets much farther than just that.

"The thought of having an A-League team is something that surfaces every now and then," Vuksich said.

"However, the money involved always stopped the idea in its tracks. And at the moment sponsorship is almost impossible to get.

"Deep down we would love to have a crack but it would be all about having the right structure in place.

"It's got to start from the top."

Money, however, remains the problem, Vuksich says, and it is crucial for any new franchise to get the foundations right, as the management failures of the Kingz and Knights loom large.

"The players were good enough but the structure was not there," he said.

"It falls apart from the top. As they say, it is the head of the fish that rots first."

Support in Auckland for football was "pretty good", Vuksich said, but like Maddaford he felt the test would be for the Phoenix game at Eden Park.

"A good crowd for a club game in Auckland, a local derby against Waitakere City could draw 2-3000 fans, he said.

"The New Zealand public are pretty fickle. They like to support winning teams."

And again, Vuksich pointed to the Breakers as an example of what was required for a New Zealand club to be successful.

"They are an outstanding organisation. The people running the club are good, they recruit well and they have a good coach," Vuksich said.

"They would have to be the model for what is required."