Herbert set for big milestone

Ricki Herbert will achieve the mantle of the most capped coach in the Hyundai A-League when the Wellington Phoenix play the Melbourne Victory on Saturday.

Ricki Herbert will achieve the mantle of the most capped coach in the Hyundai A-League when the Wellington Phoenix play the Melbourne Victory on Saturday.

Herbert will be directing his 152nd Hyundai A-League game, a total that includes five with the defunct New Zealand Knights.

He surpasses the 151 games achieved by former Melbourne Victory boss Ernie Merrick.

Herbert, upon reflection, said it was hard to believe how a dreamed of career had come about.

"When I think back to the Knights it was simply an opportunity to coach a professional team for five games, and that would be it," he said.

At the time, Herbert was in full-time work with New Zealand Football and was thrown into the cash-strapped Knights outfit to get the club through to the end of the season.

"I went into an environment where players' contracts were ending and the club was being wound up.

"It all made for a very disgruntled group but it gave me a taste of everything you can come up against in a professional football club," he said.

Herbert did have an impact, however, as the Knights won three, and drew one, of the five games under his care.

That ability to lift a demoralised side was noted by Wellington businessman Terry Serepisos when he founded the Phoenix and selected Herbert to coach and manage the side.

"We quickly developed a quality relationship which was necessary as we only had three months to put a club together," he said.

Herbert got national team players back to New Zealand in a bid to provide a cultural base, something that is still in place six years on and it was one of the most satisfying aspects in his involvement with the club.

"It hasn't gone unnoticed by other clubs and players," he said.

Inevitably, the number of games in charge has resulted in highs and lows.

"I have had some very low periods, whether over a result or position in the league, but I have always retained my faith in the club and it will be forever in my heart even if I'm not at the club at some point.

"When you look around the world, being part of forming a football club just doesn't happen and I am privileged to have been able to do it," he said.

There had been some wrong recruitment and mistakes had been made on the field, but it had all been an exciting five years, especially when compared to other professional football ventures in New Zealand.

"There is now stability around the club. We are a salary cap club and are working hard to develop, sign and recruit the best possible players to win the A-League which is our next massive challenge," he said.

Top of the list as highlights were back-to-back play-off games against the Newcastle Jets and Perth Glory at Westpac Stadium.

"I think we had 24,000 for the first game and 32,000 for the second.

"The performances were top drawer and the crowds were sensational. Those games cemented Wellington Phoenix as a brand and professional football in New Zealand," he said.