Herbert's passion play
Spending an hour in the company of New Zealand coach Ricki Herbert, one is immediately struck by his charisma and his determination. His enthusiasm and drive to make New Zealand football successful shines through with every question answered.
Yet Herbert is not just pre-occupied with the senior men's national team, he is determined to help build a legacy where all of the country's footballers, regardless of age and sex, can challenge for honours.
The 45-year-old was appointed to the role shortly before the All Whites friendly with Australia in June 2005. Since then, he has presided over 12 matches, including a history-making 3-1 win over Georgia in Altenkirchen, Germany - New Zealand's first-ever win on European soil. Yet, Herbert is fully focused on taking the team to greater heights, and ultimately to the 2010 FIFA World Cup™.
FIFA.com: Two months ago, you embarked on a European tour where you played Charlton Athletic, Blackburn Rovers and UEFA Cup holders Sevilla. Was that a useful exercise?
Ricki Herbert: It was a very productive exercise - and I was extremely happy with that. Against Charlton, we did extremely well, holding them to a draw and there were several aspects of our performance which were extremely encouraging. We suffered two emphatic defeats against Blackburn and Sevilla. It is fair to say that we lost to two better sides, but we're finding some players on the tour that we think are improving with more experiences like this. At present, we've probably only got Ryan Nelsen who plays at the top level week in and week out but it's important we move players up closer to that level as we move forward towards South Africa 2010.
What improvements have the squad made since you took charge?
I have seen a greater hunger, a greater desire for them to be successful in the All-White jersey - and they have applied themselves accordingly. It means a lot to me personally - I had a great career and I loved playing for my country - so I wanted to instil that pride in this generation. The appetite of the players is visible to everyone.
You played for New Zealand during the FIFA World Cup™ of 1982. How frustrating was it for you to not play a part in the most recent event in Germany?
It hurt. I was sitting, watching it, thinking: 'If we want to move the game forward in New Zealand, then we have to qualify for the World Cup.' It's been such a long time since we qualified that the boost the country received in 1982 has almost evaporated. The same could have been said of the Australian national side - they went 28 years without qualifying, but they managed to get to Germany, had a successful World Cup and now the sport is flourishing over there.
Speaking about Australia, what does their move to the Asian Football Confederation mean to New Zealand?
In the short term, it has opened the door for all of our teams, men's and women's to be involved in FIFA competitions, as the biggest obstacle - Australia - has been removed. However, all the hard work still has to be put into place, because even though we know that we are raising standards, we are well aware that the other countries are getting better too. If we qualify for these competitions, we have to give the younger players the resources and opportunities to succeed. And if we do that, I hope their experience will benefit football in New Zealand for years to come.
Even though you are the men's coach - you seem to be interested in all strands of the game in New Zealand. You must be enjoying it.
I love the All Whites. The All Whites are something which are very close to my heart and I'm very passionate about them. It's not an easy job, I don't think it will ever be an easy job, but I want to do it in a certain way and bring my thoughts and ideas to the table. 2006 has seen a lot of activity for the team, but not once have we put what I consider to be our best team on the park - and I don't think I will be able to do that until qualification for the World Cup starts. That's frustrating, but I love the role. I'm working alongside people with vision and hopefully we'll realise that vision together.
How would you define 'the Ricki Herbert way'?
It's a good question. I think inside every manager or coach there is a philosophy and mine is passion. I try to work really hard on having a culture within the team, which shares the same ideas that I have: the same direction, the clarity, the honesty, the unity - and that we will all be working to move things forward together. I'm not dictatorial, I'm inclusive. I like people to contribute ideas, but when decisions have to be made, I will make them. I do think that it is important to have a strong, healthy environment, because we can't work with the players for long periods of time.
In the past, New Zealand have had a reputation of trying to nick a goal, defend it - but you want to change that, don't you?
I do, because I feel that if we are going to be competitive we have to be better than that. We also have to find the players who can play that way. Again, there will be times when it is pretty tough and we will have to defend solidly, but we want to lose this negative perception. We have time now to achieve that.
In 2005 New Zealand only played one match. That was against Australia just before the FIFA Confederations Cup. Do you think the lack of action hindered the team's progress?
Yes. It was an interesting situation. I was only appointed for the one game. I could have refused to do it, said I wanted longer, but I felt that I could take the team and improve something. Little did I know that nine players would be unavailable at short notice! But that's when the passion, desire and opportunistic side of things took over. To the players' credit, the performance on that evening was very, very good - and since then we've had the chance to move things forward. So far this year, we've played 11 internationals.
What's been your highlight of those 11 internationals in 2006?
I think it was the match against Brazil. For any international manager it's special to face Brazil, but especially when you consider where they are as a team - and where we are as a team. It was a real privilege and a pleasure to be part of that occasion. Our first victory on European soil was also special - I was glad to lay that particular ghost to rest. So, thanks to these experiences, we're creating a history. That can only be healthy for the team. I was a member of a New Zealand team that created history and I'm desperate for these boys to do the same.
Comparing yourself as a coach to when you played - do you see any differences? Do you enjoy a victory more - do you feel a defeat more?
I don't think I feel any different. But when you are a player you have the rest of your team-mates to share the emotions with. As a manager, it can be quite lonely. There is a lot of thinking to do, a lot of soul-searching and difficult times. I don't want to set the bar low. I want to succeed. That's why I've arranged difficult friendlies.
What do you see as the major obstacles between you a place at South Africa 2010?
I'm not sure whether we're going to have the best players together for long periods. When the qualifiers for 2010 start, I have to make sure that we have the right players. I know that we will take a few bumps on our journey, but we have to experience them. At the moment, I want to give players international matches, I want to test them, I want them to know what it's like to play for the All Whites - and then I want to put together a 20-man squad that I think will do something special for our World Cup campaign. I am sure that we can do it.
Do people in New Zealand share your passion?
I think so. It's evolving. More children are playing the game - it just needs something, some success, to keep that momentum going. I just hope that we can provide it.