He never witnessed it but John Aloisi was well aware of New Zealand’s reputation as inept interlopers in Australia’s domestic football league.
While he was playing in Europe with Coventry, Osasuna and Alaves news would filter thorough about how the Football Kingz and New Zealand Knights were the ultimate soft touch in the National Soccer League and its successor, the A-League.
Sydney FC’s striker and leading goalscorer this season was also privy to the sport’s resurrection in Wellington as the aptly named Phoenix rose to restore the game’s credibility and develop into the worthy opponents he confronts in Saturday’s preliminary final at the Sydney Football Stadium.
Routinely written off before the A-League’s fifth edition started in August, the former Socceroo always suspected the Phoenix had the capability to play deep into a post-season.
“I’d hear from players that it was disappointing when you’d go over to Auckland and there’d be less than a thousand people watching,” he told .
“The team was never that competitive, it was a team everyone thought they could beat – and did beat.
“Then my brother (Ross), when he first signed for Wellington, he told me ‘Look, it’s a club that wants to go places fast’. He spoke very highly of the owner (Terry Serepisos).”
Ross Aloisi was a foundation member of Phoenix in 2007-08, playing 13 games and scoring twice in his final season before retirement.
The Phoenix finished eighth in their debut season and improved to sixth in 2008-09 before this history-making campaign.
“I’m not surprised,” John Aloisi said.
“Playing them in the first year, even though they were near the bottom they were a pretty good side. They made it difficult for a lot of teams and the thing now is they’ve brought in quality players.”‘
While former England internationals Dwight Yorke and Robbie Fowler are among the A-League’s marquee names, Aloisi nominated the Phoenix’s Paul Ifill as one of the shrewdest player acquisitions.
“He’s been one of the best foreigners in the A-League,” Aloisi said of his rival striker.
“When he’s one on one with you he can turn you inside out. You could see with the goal he scored at the weekend (against Newcastle in extra time).
“He’s direct, he’ll take on a player and he’s a good finisher. He sets up a lot of goals too. He’s just one of those players who’s dangerous every time he gets the ball.”
That said, none of Ifill’s 13 goals this season has been netted against Sydney FC, who boast the tightest defence in the league, one reason why they are favoured to book a rematch with the Melbourne Victory in next weekend’s title decider.