O’Rourke talks up future of troubled Phoenix

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A-League chief Greg O’Rourke has sought to ease speculation over the future of Wellington Phoenix, insisting the New Zealand-based club are “moving on from any comments linked to expansion”.

Phoenix have in recent months been in clandestine conversations with various expansion aspirants over possible partial mergers, while put on notice by FFA that they must improve their metrics or face the possible non-renewal of their licence in two years time.

However, the recent appointment of former Sydney FC talisman Mark Rudan as the club’s new coach has met with the approval of head office.

O’Rourke was keen to divert talk away from the possible demise of the Kiwi club as the process of finalizing a short-list to take the competition from 10 to 12 teams in 2019-2020 nears its conclusion.

It’s likely that the 15 bidders who have submitted Expressions of Interest could be culled to as few as six later this week - and O’Rourke made it clear that anybody hoping Phoenix might be culled has been misled.

“We need them to be successful and they have our support for the next two years,” O’Rourke told The World Game.

“If all things go well and Wellington do as well as they hope to do then I don’t see why they’re even in the conversation. It’s a non issue.

“They’ve appointed their coach on a two-year contract, and Mark Rudan is a really good appointment. I know him well and it’s good to see him get an opportunity in the A-League.

“They are now signing players again and they are moving on from all the conversations linked to expansion.”

Phoenix’s future came under heightened scrutiny after FFA CEO David Gallop revealed they had been in talks with the South-West Sydney A-League bid team over a possible melding of the two, though chairman Rob Morrison has denied he has been actively seeking to offload the licence.

To further muddy the waters he has linked the club’s future to that of the A-League itself, as the clubs continue to push for an independently run competition through the on-going governance restructure process being overseen by FIFA.

O’Rourke made it clear FFA would not countenance a merger between an existing club and an expansion aspirant, explaining: “Mergers are not on my approval list or that of the FFA. That’s our position.

“There’s been media speculation. But at no point in time have we made any statements, other than we would not entertain such a thing.

“There’s no upside for us and we’ve always wanted to make sure we stayed true to the integrity of the expansion process.”