How new Auckland A-League club will use Premier League expertise

Coach Steve Corica isn’t afraid to set the highest possible targets for the new Auckland A-League club, despite the intimidating hurdles that lie ahead.

The new franchise, backed by billionaire American owner Bill Foley, needs to assemble a squad from scratch – and build all the other departments around it – in a matter of months. The pre-season begins on July 1, while the men’s team will play their first match in October. By professional sporting standards, that’s a highly compressed timeframe, but Corica is unworried, believing they can be competitive from the start.

”Our ambition is to win,” Corica told the Herald. “The owner has made that clear. There is no better feeling, especially at a new club. Whether we can do it in the first year, time will tell. It all depends on how the squad comes together, but that’s our aim in the first year. We are not just coming in to make the top six. We want to win as soon as possible – that’s from the owner. Whether that is year one, year two, year three or longer than that, it’s hard to tell.”

Corica is pragmatic – aware of the challenges ahead – but also optimistic. Along with director of football Terry McFlynn and newly appointed head of recruitment Doug Kors, Corica recently spent 10 days in New Zealand. It was a fact-finding mission and a chance to assess the landscape, meet key stakeholders and attend to other practical matters, like facilities and accommodation.

”There is a lot to do, but we are travelling pretty well,” said Corica.

Steve Corica. Photo / Getty Images

The club, to play at Mt Smart, have settled on North Harbour Stadium as their training base and intend to build their own gym there. Their name – the subject of much debate – and club colours will be revealed next month, followed by the kit.

They have signed seven players, with a target of 15 by the end of next month. And Corica has all but settled on his support staff, including two assistant coaches. At least one will be a New Zealander. Former All Whites boss Danny Hay has been mooted as a possibility, but Corica was staying mum.

”There’s a chance,” he said.

McFlynn didn’t want to be specific about player signings, saying “we have to be respectful of contractual situations”, but the Herald understands All Whites Cameron Howieson, Michael Woud and age group representative Jesse Randall are among the first batch.

McFlynn confirmed they have spread the net as wide as possible – “Every All White you could imagine, we’ve had a conversation with” – from young players to the biggest names. The reception has been positive.

”There is interest – a lot of people want to be part of it,” said McFlynn. “It is just about timing. There is a real appetite, and we are not going to leave any stone unturned.”

It will be easier in the second and subsequent seasons as availability becomes clearer, but they will still have a majority of local players from the outset.

”That is key for both us and Bill [Foley],” said McFlynn.

Corica and McFlynn will travel to Abu Dhabi in late March, where the All Whites will play in a four-nation tournament with Croatia, Egypt and Tunisia.

”That is to show our intention of how serious we are,” said McFlynn. “We want to build a team that the city is going to be proud of, a team that is going to win, and to do that we need the best New Zealand players.”

Bill Foley, the preferred bidder for the A-League licence in Auckland, pictured during a press conference at Shed 22, Princes Wharf in Auckland, New Zealand on Tuesday, November 21, 2023. Photo / Andrew Cornaga /
Bill Foley, the preferred bidder for the A-League licence in Auckland, pictured during a press conference at Shed 22, Princes Wharf in Auckland, New Zealand on Tuesday, November 21, 2023. Photo / Andrew Cornaga /

In parallel, they are assessing imports, with five visa players allowed. As well as approaches from agents “from everywhere”, they are leaning heavily on Foley’s stable of other clubs, particularly English Premier League outfit Bournemouth.

”Bournemouth and what they have in place can help us,” said McFlynn. “It would be remiss of us not to use the resources there.”

“We don’t have a large scouting network here, but they do over there, and there are templates in what we are looking for in terms of players. We are in constant contact. It gives us a global network.”

Corica is unlikely to sign a big-name foreign player – “Some have worked, some haven’t” – among the five visa spots. He is more interested in getting people who fit the club and style, are willing to help develop young teammates and are the right age. A striker and winger will be initial targets.

Corica, McFlynn and Kors have biweekly recruitment meetings, with Foley and his key staff joining every fortnight.

”He is across everything,” said McFlynn.

Corica sees the presence – and passion – of Foley – as a key selling point to prospective players, especially with his portfolio of overseas clubs, which also include FC Lorient (Ligue 1) and Hibernian (Scottish Premiership).

”He owns other football clubs around Europe,” said Corica. “A lot of players will have the opportunity to come and play for us, do really well for us, and then they have opportunities to go to Europe after that, if that’s an ambition. Otherwise, the aim is to come here and win trophies.”

On a personal note, Corica has also been house-hunting in Auckland, preparing for his big shift after almost two decades at Sydney FC as a player and coach.

”I’m ready for it. I think we all are,” said Corica. “It was a big move, but this is a great opportunity for me.”

Michael Burgess has been a sports journalist since 2005, winning several national awards and covering Olympics, Fifa World Cups and America’s Cup campaigns. A football aficionado, Burgess will never forget the noise that greeted Rory Fallon’s goal against Bahrain in Wellington in 2009.

Read More

Previous post NFL reportedly in advanced talks with ESPN to buy stake in sports network
Next post NCAA boss against additional transfer limitations