Italiano set to get new Nix deal after strong ALM start

Giancarlo Italiano will be rewarded with a new Wellington Phoenix deal after guiding the A-League Men minnows to their best-ever season.

The Sydney-raised Italiano has excelled in his first season as a senior coach, finishing the campaign as the highest-ranked Australian manager.

Italiano’s tactical nous and ability to rally a young squad to a second-placed league finish – defying basement-low pre-season predictions – won praise across the league.

The 41-year-old said he was “very happy” in New Zealand and open to a longer stay.

“If the club wanted to lock me in for a longer period I wouldn’t say no. I don’t want to go coach another A-League team. It’s not something that I’m interested in,” he told AAP.

Italian, speaking before the club’s final exit to Melbourne Victory, joined the Nix in 2019 as an analyst under Ufuk Talay.

He rose to assistant in 2021 when Chris Greenacre took over at the academy, which has supplied several talents to the first team.

Italiano has since revealed self-doubt over his coaching capability, but with Talay’s backing he took on the senior role and is now halfway through a two-year deal.

When he came to interest in his services, Italiano said “you hear stuff and agents always talk”, but he wasn’t listening.

“I try to ignore all that crap because the most important thing when it comes to this job is that you’re focused,” he said.

“When you start thinking about what your next job is or what your next move is, you lose that focus and momentum. Players and people pick up on stuff like that.

“The club’s been very good to me. If these guys weren’t open and willing to give me a chance, I would never, never get this opportunity, so I feel very dedicated and loyal to them.

“There’s nothing more that I want to give this club than something to hang its hat on.”

Phoenix players celebrate their late equalizer against the Victory in Wellington. (Marty Melville/AAP PHOTOS)

Phoenix chief executive David Dome told AAP the coach would be rewarded after he takes a well-earned holiday.

“I have no doubt the chairman will be having a conversation when he gets back,” he told AAP.

For all the praise for his start to management, Italiano knows he and the Phoenix haven’t won anything yet.

Saturday night’s painful semi-final defeat to the Victory was the closest the club has come to winning anything in 17 seasons, and he knows his sharp start to management could hit roadblocks next campaign.

“Always in the back of my mind, I’m like ‘this can always end tomorrow’,” Italiano said.

“I’ve seen so many coaches be flavor of the month and then you don’t hear from them any more.”

Still, Wellington are keen to kick on. With a young squad, the Nix may be better placed than most to prosper as A-League clubs tighten their belts, with reduced payments heading to clubs from head office.

The club has opted against retaining their highest-paid player, striker Oskar Zawada.

Decisions on out-of-contract regulars Kosta Barbarouses – who Italiano said would “definitely” stay – Bozhidar Kraev and Nico Pennington are expected soon.

Loanee Youstin Salas is expected to return to Costa Rica.

Most of the squad are contracted past this campaign, enabling the club to either keep or cash in on top talent should offer come in.

“We’ve been open, that’s our strategy,” Dome said, aware players have ambitions beyond the A-League.

Young Kiwis Alex Paulsen, Ben Old and Finn Surman have enjoyed sterling seasons and it wouldn’t surprise to see interest in them in coming weeks.