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Thursday, July 15, 2010
ESPNsoccernet: July 16, 10:16 AM UK
Herbert: We're in the national psyche

Jason Dasey

Citing the "Kiwi kid within", New Zealand coach Ricki Herbert turned his back on offers in Asia, Europe and Africa, to re-commit himself to his homeland this week in the wake of the All Whites' impressive showing at the 2010 World Cup.

The 49-year-old will continue as manager of A-League side Wellington Phoenix - at until at least the end of the 2012-2013 season - in conjunction with an ongoing role in charge of the national team which is expected to last until Brazil 2014.

Branded as tactically naive ahead of New Zealand's second World Cup finals appearance, Herbert proved the critics wrong by achieving what Vicente Del Bosque, Bert Van Marwijk and Joachim Low couldn't with far more talented squads - overseeing an unbeaten campaign, including a 1-1 draw with Italy that contributed to the early elimination of the defending champions.

It scarcely seemed to matter that New Zealand failed to advance beyond Group F with three points from three games and just two goals: after being tipped as potential whipping boys, the Kiwis more than earned the respect of the footballing fraternity, with their world ranking rising 24 places to 54th on the latest FIFA list.

Herbert, who was a young defender in New Zealand's only other previous World Cup appearance at Spain 1982, took a break from Wellington's pre-season preparations to speak to Soccernet.

Jason Dasey: Ricki, what was it like to watch the conclusion of the World Cup back on New Zealand soil, having been in the thick of the action in South Africa?

Ricki Herbert: It was really positive. It's good to know that New Zealand was a strong part of it and being back home you could sense the feeling around the whole event.

How do you compare coming home this time to coming home as a player after the 1982 World Cup and what are the chances of New Zealand football and the Wellington Phoenix building on the momentum?

There's every opportunity to build on it and the game in New Zealand needs to. Nationwide it needs to keep on going and the Phoenix is a big part of that. We've got games coming up with the Phoenix and football is entrenched in the national psyche at the moment.

How's your day-to-day experience changed in New Zealand on coming home, in terms of people recognising you and the way they treat you?

Obviously people are more aware now. Sometimes you'd like a little bit of space but it's good to go out and have people acknowledge the achievements of the team and myself personally. It's nice to be able to go out and have a few drinks bought for you too!

How challenging has it been to get down to earth by returning to the day-to-day operations with Wellington Phoenix and the A-League pre-season - after the tournament atmosphere in South Africa?

It's not hard at all because I've had the combination of both jobs for three years. Coaching the Phoenix is my main job; we've got a great set-up at the club on and off the field and it's always a pleasure working in that capacity.

What would you have said a couple of months ago if someone had told you that New Zealand would go through the World Cup undefeated?

I'd have grabbed it, that's for sure. History tells us there are only a handful of teams that have ever done it. It may have seemed a bit far-fetched to most people but it's testament to the team and the way they've reacted and gone about it that we were unbeaten.

What's your happiest memory - a single moment perhaps - from the All Whites' achievements in South Africa?

Fortunately, there's a few. With 30 seconds to go against Slovakia and scoring... you couldn't buy that feeling - knowing it'd be the country's first point ever (at a World Cup). Then the result against Italy, given who they are and what they've done, that was an even bigger high. To think we might've qualified for the final 16, or go unbeaten, was a great feeling. But what makes me happiest is seeing the spirit and feeling within the playing group. That's been important from day one, having players who understood what was needed and where we stood as a nation.

How much credit tactically do you give yourself for New Zealand's success at the World Cup and developing a system that worked so well?

It was calculated gamble, or risk - if it wasn't then teams like Italy or Brazil would never lose, but they do. We knew with the strengths of the team and how we could play that if we got it right we'd be extremely hard to beat. There are three things I looked for: firstly the strategy, secondly the tactics and thirdly - and most importantly - the application. It doesn't matter what your strategy or tactics are, if you don't apply it then it won't work. I think we got everything in sequence.

Striker Shane Smeltz has moved from the A-League to the Chinese Super League. What kind of chance do Shane and some of the other star performers from your squad still playing in Australasia have of making it abroad?

It's always a difficult one. Shane has gone to China but you could argue he hasn't gone to a better league. Post-World Cup, with everyone's emotions settling and with managers looking at the options, there is the potential for something to happen. It'd be a wonderful experience for any player to get the chance but it would be a big step.

What are the small routines in Wellington you've returned to since coming home after many weeks away for the World Cup and its preparation?

I've been with family and friends... got down to the local to catch up with the really nice people there. It's good to get back and see what everyone back home felt about the World Cup. But day-to-day it's been about the Phoenix - getting back into training. The hardest thing immediately after coming home was thinking about my future, but now that's done and dusted and I'm with the Phoenix till 2012-13 and the national team, it's full steam ahead.

What did you do you immediately after South Africa 2010 for your holiday and how did you watch the World Cup final?

I watched the final with (All Whites assistant coach) Brian Turner in Auckland. After the World Cup (group stages), I went to Hong Kong with my family (wife Raewyn and children Kale and Sasha) and we really just had a holiday and did all the usual tourist things - shopping, eating, sightseeing. It was really relaxing - jeans, T-shirts, nice weather. I didn't get to go to the racecourse though, that was disappointing!


• Jason Dasey (www.jasondasey.com) is football host and executive producer for Asian network, Astro


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