It was the worst year of Paul Ifill’s otherwise brilliant A-League career – just ask him.
The Wellington Phoenix striker can’t volunteer quickly enough that things didn’t work as he expected and that he didn’t live up to expectations of himself and those around him.
The 33-year-old has been selected for the A-League All-Stars team to face Manchester United on Saturday night but he knows it wasn’t on form.
”Any time you get recognised like this is pleasing, but I don’t think it had much to do with the way I was playing last season,” he said. ”Maybe I improved in the last four or five matches, when Chris Greenacre took over, but, before that, as a team we were pretty poor and I was particularly poor.
”For somebody to see through the mess and still think I can do the business is flattering. Now I’m hoping to use it as a platform to kick-start the season.”
Ifill reckons the seeds were sown in pre-season and the various patch-up jobs only made things worse. ”I felt really good going into the season but three weeks before it started I did my knee and my ankle in a tackle,” he said.
”You want to rush back and get fit, so I played the first six games with painkilling injections. That was stupid and something I should never have done. I should know better at my age, and it was just a knock-on effect from there.
”I never really regained my fitness. I was playing catch-up, and by the time January-February came, we were so far behind, and everybody was expecting me to step up and do what I’d done before, but it just didn’t happen. Before I knew it, I was in a total confidence slump.”
However, as he bounds through the All-Stars’ hotel in Parramatta with the energy and spirit of someone half his age, one senses the mojo is coming back.
There’s a new coach at the Phoenix, two-time A-League winner Ernie Merrick, who Ifill reckons ”has already changed the way we’re going to play”. Merrick has convinced his former Melbourne Victory gun Carlos Hernandez to sign on for Wellington – one of the club’s biggest signings. Although Ifill plays a similar role, he has no doubts they can work together. ”Sometimes you see players and you think, ‘Yeah, I’d love to play with him,’ and Carlos is one of those,” he said. ”He’s got tremendous quality, he’s proven in this league and I think we can do a lot of damage together.”
The England-raised Barbados international is a fully fledged Kiwi after four years in Wellington but regrets being ineligible for the All Whites.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.