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Wellington Phoenix FC’s trip to the Gold Coast has allowed coach Ricki Herbert to tick off plenty of boxes on his pre-season checklist.
The Wellington-based team spent five days on the Gold Coast and played two games as part of the club’s build-up to its second season in the Hyundai A-League.
And the Phoenix mentor returned to the capital satisfied with where his team is at just a month out from its 2008 Pre-Season Cup opener against the Central Coast Mariners at Westpac Stadium on July 20.
Team bonding, assessing lineups and combinations, monitoring player conditioning and scoring goals – the Gold Coast tour provided a wealth of information for Herbert. The two matches also provided a wealth of goals for the capital outfit, with the Phoenix knocking in 18 goals in two matches and conceding just two.
“Things went very well and I’m extremely pleased with what the trip provided us,” Herbert said. “The guys have been working hard over the past eight weeks from a physiological perspective and it was a good exercise to get them to an airport, travel to a new environment and enjoy a new challenge outside of Wellington.”
The Phoenix played two matches, against Gold Coast Premier League sides Broadbeach United and Burleigh Heads. The Phoenix beat Broadbeach 5-1 before hammering league-leading Burleigh Heads 13-1.
But big scorelines were well down the list of priorities for Herbert.
“We’ve been very focused on ensuring the players are following the conditioning programmes developed by [strength and conditioning coach] Ed Baranowski and that everyone is sticking to that and continuing to build the intensity.
“The players are feeling good, they look good, they look fit and strong. While we haven’t begun phase two of speed and endurance training yet, the players did look very sharp – particularly in the game against Burleigh Heads.”
Herbert had big raps on Baranowski, the world-renowned trainer who has previously worked with English Premier League clubs Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United.
“He’s done a fantastic job. When you start a new programme there’s always some questions asked by the players but we’re fortunate to have a great bunch of guys who were quite fascinated by the professional approach Ed and the club were taking, from daily urine analysis to blood testing and applying strict, tailored regimens. It’s fair to say now that on completion of the tour all the guys are feeling really good and can see the benefit of what we’re doing.”
As well as ensuring the players’ conditioning was on track, Herbert had good opportunities to assess on-field strategies and tactics.
“We’ve ring-fenced positions and looked at on-field relationships and combinations, the formations we can use. Formations are an interesting one because they can be very subjective, they only provide a loose framework for how things might look. What I’m trying to develop is a formula whereby we have a variety of options at any given time for any given circumstance.”
The Gold Coast tour also helped Herbert to further clarify his thinking as to who will wear the captain’s armband this season.
“I think we’ll be in a position to make an announcement regarding leadership within the next fortnight. We have recruited new players and it’s always interesting to see characters develop. Spending time at training and spending time away always brings the leadership cream to the top and my thoughts have definitely moved forward on that front as a result of the Gold Coast trip.”
The Phoenix now turn their attention to next month’s five-day visit to Christchurch. While in the Garden City the Phoenix will take on a Mainland Football Selection at QEII Stadium on Sunday, July 13, as well as run training sessions for the region’s playing and coaching talent. The trip will culminate in a gala charity dinner on Monday, July 14.