Talay's bold, revolutionary plan to start a Phoenix dynasty
Wellington Phoenix resembled something of a sinking ship when Ufuk Talay took the helm in May.
But the 43-year-old arrived with a bold and revolutionary plan to steer the Kiwi club forward into uncharted Hyundai A-League waters.
Some might’ve expected the ex-Sydney FC assistant coach Talay – who had just seven contracted players at his disposal when he assumed the post – to construct this pre-season rebuilding job with a safety-first approach in mind.
That has not been the blueprint laid down in the New Zealand capital.
Talay’s plan is to introduce exciting, new faces to the Hyundai A-League, young talent desperate for their opportunity in first team football.
It all flows from the former Australian U17 and U20 coach’s resolute belief that there are hidden gems waiting to be unearthed ready to take the competition by storm.
And Talay, who was once named ‘the best player never to play for Australia’ by former Caltex Socceroo Josip Skoko, knows where to look.
“I wanted to bring in players that hadn’t really been given a chance, were hungry, had the ambition to be successful and wanted to move on to bigger and better things.
"Players that aren’t just happy to be here.
“We hope we bring some variety to the A-League this year. We hope we see some new faces that also give excitement to our fans, but also to the A-League.
“Once the A-League grows and we get more teams and more opportunities for these players to be exposed and to play at the highest level. The talent is there, it’s just that the opportunities aren’t.”
An avalanche of crucial post-season departures left Talay with a shell of the side that helped Phoenix to sixth place last campaign.
Roy Krishna jumped ship after a history-making campaign crowned by the Johnny Warren medal, as did strike partner David Williams. The pair scored 30 of Phoenix’s 46 goals last campaign and have since united in the Indian Super League.
INS AND OUTS: Wellington Phoenix
In a loss that possibly wrenched the guts of Phoenix fans even more, 273-game club captain Andrew Durante, the naturalised Kiwi who served with distinction for nearly a decade, went to Western United.
There, Durante is now a chief lieutenant to Mark Rudan, after he walked out of his contract with a season remaining to join the competition newcomers.
“I would’ve liked to keep players like Roy [Krishna], Willo [Williams] and Dura [Durante], but the reality is that players make decisions and move on, and I’ll always respect that,” Talay said.
“It’s normal for players to capitalise on a great season and opportunities that come forward to them, because it’s a short career.
“You can see it in a bad way, but you can also see it in a way that it’s an opportunity to create a team that’s going to be successful this season and for the seasons after that as well.”
And as he devises a long-term plan for Phoenix success, Talay has given a show of faith for some of Australia and New Zealand’s most talented young players to lead the way, a list that includes Walter Scott (Perth Glory), Callum McCowatt (Eastern Suburbs), Cameron Devlin (Sydney FC), Liam McGing (Sutherland Sharks) and Reno Piscopo (Renate).
From that bunch, only Devlin (nine) and Scott (two) have made Hyundai A-League appearances.
But Talay has also recruited a promising selection on overseas players that only add to the fresh feel of the club ahead of 2019/20. All Whites number one Stefan Marinovic replaces Filip Kurto, who also joined Rudan at Western United, while English forward David Ball and Mexican dynamo Ulises Davila will lead the gruelling assignment of replacing the goals of Krishna and Williams.
“We want to go as far as possible," Talay said.
"But at the same time the season is about giving these boys an opportunity to be exposed. Because the talent is there in Australia, and in Australia they don’t get exposed enough.
“If we're able to maintain this team for this season and have a good year and continue on to next season with the same group, and bring even better players in… it’s not just thinking about one year, it’s about thinking of the future as well. What about the season after next?
“The way I look at it, if the club's been handed to me in a certain way, when I leave here, I need to hand it back better than what I got it. That’s the way I look at football. Players will move on, but the club will always be here.”
Talay’s approach is one that is bound to attract a healthy dose of scepticism.
And the nay-sayers will no likely have been raising their eyebrows at the teething problems on show when the Phoenix boss fielded a team with an average age of 21.2 – and eight debutants – in August’s FFA Cup 2019 loss to Brisbane Strikers in the Round of 32.
“Being written off is the norm with football,” Talay said. “I don’t like the underdog tag - when I speak to my players, I believe that we have quality there. Yes, they are a younger group, but we also have visa players that we’ve brought that are quality players and are at a great age as well. We have the experienced players that have the quality to help them.”
It’s not hard to see why Phoenix saw Talay as the standout candidate the build the club’s future after the departure of Rudan.
His staunch belief in youth and opportunity is one that aligns to a tee with the New Zealanders, whose academy line was given its biggest tick in its six-year existence when Sarpreet Singh joined Bayern Munich in June.
The challenge, of course, will be for Talay to improve upon the impressive results of last season.
“We want to try to play a brand of football that we enjoy,” he said.
“At the same time, we want to create a brand that the fans enjoy watching play. When we don’t have the ball, we want to be very structured and disciplined in what we do.”
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