A-League. Sydney FC vs Adelaide United.
pic shows Adelaide coach John Kosmina after the game.
Thursday 22nd December, 2011
SMH SPORT pics by anthony johnson

Phoenix candidate? John Kosmina. Photo: Anthony Johnson

A LENGTHY list of candidates will be bidding to replace Ricki Herbert as coach of Wellington Phoenix, with former Melbourne Victory mentor Ernie Merrick's name having been bandied around in New Zealand as one possible contender after Herbert's resignation on Tuesday.

Other names cited include former A-League coaches John Kosmina, who recently parted company with Adelaide, ex-Gold Coast mentor Miron Bleiberg and sacked Perth Glory coach Ian Ferguson.

Herbert is the fifth coach in the 10-team league to have left the job this season. For now, assistant coach Chris Greenacre, a former striker who played in England's lower divisions before joining the New Zealanders in 2009, has taken the reins at the Phoenix.

Whatever else he does in his career, Herbert will always hold a special place in New Zealand soccer history.

He might not have been the first coach to take the All Whites to the World Cup - John Adshead earned that distinction in 1982 - but he is the first Kiwi to have played for his country in a World Cup, as he did in Spain as part of Adshead's squad, and to have managed it in the biggest competition of all, as he did in 2010 in South Africa.

In fact, the All Whites were the surprise package of that tournament, drawing all three games and exiting the competition as the only nation not to lose a match, even though they failed to qualify for the knockout phase.

Herbert took all the plaudits then, but he takes the brickbats now after a disappointing campaign for the Phoenix - the club he coached in tandem with the All Whites since it came into the competition in 2007.

Herbert did a sterling job in his five years in control of Wellington. Or he did until the past few months, when a new ownership group appeared to pull the rug from beneath him midway through the campaign by demanding a more attractive playing style.

The coach has been a pragmatist, and while his teams might not have played the most free-flowing soccer, they certainly got results. The Phoenix made the finals three seasons in a row - from 2009-10 to 2011-12 - and pulling gates of up to 30,000 for play-off games in Wellington.

The club has teetered from financial crisis to solvency at various times under his stewardship, but Herbert always remained phlegmatic about his travails.

But the demand for a different game style proved difficult to meet, a 7-1 loss to Sydney proving to be a nadir.

Things haven't got much better as the Phoenix remains rooted to the foot of the table, although the closeness of the competition means that even though it is six points outside a finals berth, it is not impossible (although it is improbable) that it could make up the leeway with five games left.

Herbert will continue in his role as All Whites coach and, with a number of World Cup qualifiers on the horizon, he will have his hands full as the New Zealanders look to maintain the progress they have made in the international arena. He will also remain with the Phoenix as a technical adviser.