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Transition time for Wai United

Jonty Roubos, with ball, is unlikely to be with Wairarapa United in 2022. PHOTOS/FILE


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Although Paul Ifill has hung up his boots on his Central League playing career for Wairarapa United, he intends to still play an active role at the club.

The Wellington Phoenix legend is also unlikely to continue as coach of the club’s women’s team in the W-League, because of coaching commitments with the Samoan women’s international side, which will take him away from the region for several weeks during next year.

Despite ending his Central League playing career, Paul Ifill will still have an important role with Wairarapa United.

Ifill’s playing retirement and the loss of several players from this year’s side that finished fifth in the Central League, could see the club enter a period of consolidation.

“We were lucky in the last couple of years that we had a really good group of youngsters coming though – Noah Boyce, Jonty Roubos, Josh Rudland, and Scott Morris – really good kids and hopefully some of them will go on and play pro, because that’s how good they are,” said Ifill.

“Now we are probably two or three years away from another group like that, so if NZ Football are holding up their end and saying it’s a true amateur league with no one being paid the chances of us getting any senior players from over the hill are slim and if you couple that with what’s coming through with the kids that are not quite ready yet, how does a team like Wairarapa United carry on playing in the Central league and being competitive?”

Ifill said the club needs to sit down as a committee and work on what they need to do, a view shared by Wairarapa United board member Gill Flower, who envisages an important role for Ifill with the club, because of his knowledge of players, and through the Paul Ifill Football Academy [PIFA].

“What we’re saying is let’s transition for the next year or two and if Paul can consult for us and keep some of these players on board and come in and help the coaches who are coming in, to understand the club and understand how his academy fits in with the club,” Flower said.

Ifill and Flower agree a problem the club regularly faces is the retention of players in Wairarapa with the incentives offered by Wellington-based clubs.

That was evident this season, with a poorly timed June transfer window, which had influential midfielder Hugo Delhommelle move to Miramar Rangers and in-form striker Jared Cunniff transfer to Wellington Olympic, which impacted on United’s prospects of a top four finish and a place in the new National Championship.

Flower said the transfer window in the second half of the season and the sudden resignation of Keinzley as coach hurt the team.

“Had we kept Phil and had we kept our stability we would have been fine, and we were our own worst enemies at that time of the season, because we were fighting the transfer market, other teams were making plays for our players, and then the destabilisation of losing our coach. We would have made the national league if we had kept our players, I have no doubt.

“We know the Wellington clubs and other clubs have sponsors with deep pockets and there’s not a lot we can do in that they’re offering money outside of the club to players, which we can’t do. Obviously, we have done that in the past with Phil [Keinzley] but it is not sustainable, and it holds you to ransom to a degree,” said Flower.

Ifill feels United must think outside the square and consider different options to attract senior players to the region.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen, but we’ve got to find a way to get some senior players over this side of the hill, and that could be relocating. Do you speak to the schools and try and get these guys employed at the schools, doing a bit of coaching and for Wairarapa United; could it be a joint venture?” he said.

Flower also said the key is to get players to settle in Wairarapa to build a quality player base here.

“We want homegrown, and we want people who want to come here and stay here and maybe have one or two of the Hugos to complement. We want the base to be players who want to stay, have a passion for the area, and want to give back to the sport, not fly-by-nighters, which is what we’ve been getting a lot of.”

A lack of coaches with a FIFA B-license, or C-licence could prove to be another speed bump, with only one B-licence holder, Sean Dunbar, in the region.

“I may have my B license at the end of the year,” sad Ifill, “it’s not ticked off yet but I’m just in the process of doing it and that would make two of us. Now you need at least two at the club – B licence holders for your first team and as a director football and you need C licence holders for your youth teams.”

Flower said the search for new coaches is already under way, and United have started negotiations with a potential coach for the Central League team and are talking to some candidates for the women’s W-League team, and that Ifill will be involved in that process.

“He has the knowledge, he knows the players and keeping him involved will keep some consistency going forward, and we rate him, and he’s been amazing for us, but we are a club as well.”

Flower said United is in the best financial position it has been for several years, and that could assist in attracting a new coach.

“We’ve done a lot of hard work over the last three or four years getting sponsors on board, looking at how we can fundraise, and we have gone from hand to mouth for several seasons, but we’ve got a bit in the pot now to be able to have a bit of luxury to say we can invest a bit of money into this coach.”

Flower is adamant that the club won’t divert from its strategy of being a development club.

“We have this amateur-professional contract and we’ve stuck it 100 per cent in that our club doesn’t pay players to play. We have a coaching pathway for those who want to go down that path, but we’re here to develop players; that’s our club ethos, so it’s about doing that.”

Flower also confirmed that plans for a 25th anniversary celebration have been put on hold because of the disrupted season.

“What we’re probably going to do is run it next year and hopefully covid won’t spoil things.”

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