Greener Pastures

Replacing the league’s top striker is a big job for any player – but CHRIS GREENACRE is ready to step up as Wellington’s new No.9

For any club, losing the top goalscorer in the competition would be hard. But so far this season, many have predicted the loss of Shane Smeltz would hit Wellington Phoenix even harder.

The Hyundai A-League-s New Zealand franchise doesn-t exactly boast a roaster of household names, and Smeltz-s defection to Gold Coast United was enough for some to write off the club-s chances.

But when one door closes, another opens. Rather than search for a direct replacement, Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert shrewdly brought in two strikers, both imports, with great experience.

Given their experience, it-s a fair guess Englishman Chris Greenacre and Barbados international Paul Ifill should provide the stable and hard-working Wellington squad with more attacking options than last season, and hopefully more goals.

For Greenacre, the settled Phoenix has made the 18,646km transition from the Wirral to the North Island just that bit easier.

“Definitely,” Greenacre tells AFW. “The squad-s been together for a while. It-s good to come to a club where people know their roles and positions.”

It has been quite a move. The 31-year-old came to the end of a four-year spell with League One side Tranmere Rovers, just over the River Mersey from Liverpool, where he scored 53 goals in 160 appearances. Given his age; a previous season wracked by injury; and the fragile finances of many UK smaller clubs, Greenacre recognised his time at Rovers was at an end, so took the chance to extend his career overseas. Not that he ever expected to land in New Zealand.

“I didn-t think for a second there would be any interest to get a move abroad at this point in my career,” he says. “I just put my name out there, didn-t think it would come off or there would be anyone who would know anything about me. An agent came back to me and said, ‘There-s interest [from Wellington], would it be something you-d like to pursue?-. So I thought long and hard about it, spoke to the manager and CEO in England around March, and the meeting went really well.

“I-ve been here about seven to eight weeks now and adjusting to life well.“

The big move has been helped by Wellington-s desire to make a home for their imports; the club knows a settled player is a happy player - and a happy striker means more goals. Greenacre is quick to talk up the camaraderie at the club.

“My team-mates and the club have been really good in helping me and my family settle.

“It-s great to have all the players in one place. We get together quite often for dinner; it-s a good place. In the UK, a lot of the players live quite a way from each other so it-s brilliant for team morale.”

It helps when you and your strike partner have just made the same move, of course.

“[Me and Paul Ifill are] actually neighbours so it-s worked out well. I know Paul from the UK, I know what a good player he is and he-s played at a good level for a long time. He-ll be a great addition to our squad and I-m sure he-ll be very successful.”

Strikers, of course, measure success in goals - and Greenacre didn-t take long to get off the mark. The 3-2 loss to Newcastle Jets in round one was a disappointing performance from Wellington, but they can take heart from the spirit shown to pull two goals back and that the new No.9 scored on debut.

“For a striker it-s important you get off the mark, and the sooner the better,” Greenacre says. “Thankfully it came in the opening game, so hopefully I can relax a little bit more now and concentrate on my game a little bit more.”

Perth Glory visit Westpac Stadium this weekend and it-s a real chance for Wellington to show they will be in the fight for the finals this year. The newly strengthened Perth have had plenty of wraps and will be hungry for points after the round-one loss to Adelaide United.

Greenacre knows how important a win in the first home game of the season is, and is out to prove his journey across the globe is more than simply another Pom looking for a tan.

“People have mentioned Perth have underachieved for a few seasons but they-ve signed some good players so it-s going to be a tough game for us.

“I-ve not come here for a jolly-up and to sit in the sun for a couple of years. With a different climate comes a different lifestyle and I-m looking to absorb as much of that as I can... And hopefully we can get a result in front of our home fans.”

This article appeared in Issue 2 of Australian Football Weekly (AFW) for the Hyundai A-League 2009/10 season. Australian Football Weekly, on sale at every Hyundai A-League game for $5.