Pignata's hardest decision

Tony Pignata is stepping down as chief executive of the Wellington Phoenix.

Tony Pignata is stepping down as chief executive of the Wellington Phoenix.

Pignata, who has been at the helm since the A-League club's inception in 2007, is quitting for family reasons and plans to join his wife and sons who returned to Melbourne last year.

The 45-year-old Australian, a former chief executive of Football Federation Victoria, has been a key figure in the Phoenix's rise in the A-League, just recently helping to secure a new five-year licence and a renewed commitment from major sponsor Sony.

During his time in charge the club has attracted players such as English imports Paul Ifill, Chris Greenacre and Australian Andrew Durante to the capital and last season the Phoenix got to within one match of the Grand Final and finished third in the competition.

Pignata said the decision to leave the Phoenix had been "probably one of the hardest I have had to do" and had nothing to do with speculation surrounding the financial situation of owner Terry Serepisos.

"I had to make the decision between the club I love and the family I love and in the end it was a no-brainer," he told Sportal.

"They went back in December and I wanted to complete a few things which I've done now and I'm happy to leave the Phoenix in great shape for whoever comes on board to take it to the next level."

Those "few things" included securing the five-year A-League licence, renewing the deal with Sony but also keeping the squad from last year intact, which they have done.

Pignata admits the early weeks and months of the club's life had been tough.

"One of the things I've always maintained is that we had a lack of respect from media locally and internationally and what they thought of New Zealand football.

"Look how far we've come in a short amount of time. To go within one game of the Grand Final this year and get records crowds and football being on an all-time high, it's been nothing short of brilliant," he added.

Pignata plans to have a break when he returns to Melbourne. "I'll be a night owl watching the World Cup. I've got two teams to support now - the All Whites and Socceroos."

He would also love to stay in the football environment. "I'd love to continue in football but I'll look at other sport roles as well.

"From a sporting-type background that I've got I think I can add a lot of value to any sport from an administration point of view but I'm hoping if there's opportunity there to stay in football that will be sensational. Who knows what the future holds."