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It should be remembered as one of New Zealand football’s greatest years. Instead, AFC politics clouds the future of the Wellington Phoenix – the linchpin of New Zealand football’s success – as its glorious year ends in uncertainty.
AFC’s insistence that Wellington must become an Australian based club, meaning the Phoenix will be restricted in the number of Kiwis they can field, or else face exclusion from the Asian Champions League, shows the confederation isn’t going to budge on this issue.
It would be a devastating blow for New Zealand, Oceania and the A-League.
The success story of the Phoenix has been the opportunity it gives to young Kiwis to ply their trade in a competitive and professional league.
There is a clear path from the clubs of the NZFC to the Phoenix, and without Wellington it is highly unlikely World Cup qualification would have been possible.
The elimination of New Zealand’s – and Oceania’s – only professional football club will set football back in the region yet again; undoing the advances made during the Phoenix’s existence.
The AFC’s insistence, undoubtedly fuelled by the All Whites depriving the AFC of a World Cup spot in the form of Bahrain, leaves the FFA in the precarious position of trying to appease the AFC while hoping for a solution to keep a New Zealand presence in the league; assisting Oceania greatly.
The A-League will be a lesser competition without the Phoenix, their passionate supporters and the quality of Kiwi footballers that are increasingly spreading around the competition.
The advances in New Zealand football have been obvious – World Cup qualification, Shane Smeltz being awarded the Johnny Warren medal, the NZFC’s Auckland City defeating more fancied AFC opposition in the World Club Cup, and the Wellington Phoenix rising to be a consistent threat in the A-League.
Without the Phoenix, those achievements would be near impossible to achieve.
As they try and work themselves into A-League finals contention, keeping one eye on World Cup preparations knowing a strong performance in South Africa is essential to validate Oceania’s half qualification spot, you have to feel very sorry for all those associated with the Phoenix, with an unjust axe hanging over them.
It’s a grossly unfair situation, and yet again Oceania is being treated like the forgotten child of world football, and the AFC is yet again being ignorant to the fragile state of Oceania and Australia’s burden of responsibility to the region.
The Phoenix, All Whites and Oceania need FIFA – who have been sympathetic to the Phoenix’s plight – to act with conviction and fairness to ensure the region isn’t condemned to further isolation. The A-League needs Blatter to act in order to save one of the best-run franchises.