Wellington Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick’s dreams of a reserve team could be moving closer to reality after a recent meeting between the A-League club and New Zealand Football.
Slammed by a series of injuries and suspensions, the Phoenix have struggled in the closing weeks of the season and currently sit eighth on the table with two games remaining.
Merrick’s frustrations have been exacerbated by the lack of a reserve team, where players just outside the match-day squads can get regular game time.
The nine Australia-based clubs in the A-League have teams in a national youth league, and the recent establishment of a second-tier national premier league provides further options for developing A-League players.
New Zealand Football chief executive Andy Martin met with Phoenix co-owner Gareth Morgan and general manager David Dome last weekend, with the development of a reserve team one of the items on the agenda.
“Both New Zealand Football and the Wellington Phoenix have the same end goal: developing the game of football in New Zealand to the best of our ability,” Morgan said.
Merrick has bemoaned the lack of a youth team for the club, saying it’s a huge problem for coaching staff and players alike.
“Not having a reserve side just holds back the development of our younger players,” he said.
“We must have a competitive reserve team play games every week if we are going to progress.”
Taking into account the youth league and national premier competition, Merrick said the Australian A-League clubs were developing players who were playing 50 games a year and were ready to step up at any time.
When Merrick can field his best starting 11, the Phoenix can stretch any team and have recorded some impressive wins, but they’ve also recorded some horror late-season losses.
“Our starting 11, given everyone is available, is very strong – we’ve demolished teams,” Merrick said.
“But if you look at the number of times I’ve been able to put out the strongest squad, it’s not very often.”