Chiefy’s message to Wellington Phoenix fans as history awaits after classy press-conference gesture

Before the cameras started rolling in the post-match press conference, there was a moment that summed up Giancarlo Italiano and what he has brought to Wellington Phoenix in his maiden season as an Isuzu UTE A-League head coach.

Nicknamed ‘Chiefy’, the Phoenix boss shook the hand of every single person in the room before and after his press conference following Wellington’s 0-0 draw away to Melbourne Victory in the opening leg of their Semi-Final showdown at AAMI Park on Sunday.

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Wellington have made history in 2023-24 – securing their best-ever finish after placing second behind Central Coast Mariners in the regular season and their highest points total among other achievements.

More history will be made on Saturday when the Phoenix host their first Isuzu UTE A-League Semi-Final in front of what is set to be a blockbuster crowd at Sky Stadium, where the winner will advance to the Grand Final.

Italiano is hoping “to do the country proud”.

“I want everyone to come out to the game. Even if you have a faint interest. The buzz around town…” Italiano told reporters.

“I mentioned this to the players yesterday, the feeling we’re giving our fans is something that may not happen again. Knock on wood it happens every season but it hasn’t happened yet.

“We talk about this idea of creating a legacy at this club. It’s more about that. We’re very family orientated and the fans are a massive part of that. I want to give them hope.

“It’s a celebration about the whole season. If we’re good enough to make the final, we will make it. If we’re not, it will still be a celebration about we’ve still broken a lot of records this season. Our players should be proud, our fans should be proud, the club should be proud.

“I’m actually pumped for this game.”

Italiano continued: “The most important thing is we have our fate and destiny in our own hands. For me, that was the most important thing. I didn’t want to be one or two goals down and chasing our tails. I wanted to go home with a simple victory being enough for us to go through.

“That’s their first point in a Semi-Final. We also have a lot of young players who haven’t played in that situation. I think they’re one match better for the experience.

“Now I think the crowd will be the decisive factor in the game coming up. If we can get close to 25,000 – anything above 25,000 will give us an advantage.”

It is another step on an incredible journey under rookie head coach Italiano, who replaced Ufuk Talay at the start of 2023-24.

Italiano has placed his faith in youth and created a family culture in Wellington.

On the eve of the game, there was a surprise dinner and video presentation for Phoenix players in Melbourne.

There were messages from the players families amid an historic season that has captivated a nation and a competition.

“Last night it was more of a casual dinner because it will be the last time we sit as a group away from home,” Italiano, who was stopped for photos by Victory fans before the game, revealed.

“We put a presentation to the players, summarising the whole season and what we’re about. Going into our values which the players built and we built over the whole season.

“It was very positive and a bit emotional which was great. I won’t go too much into it but it was no different to what we’ve done all season but just a reinforcement of all the stuff we believe.”

On the field, Italiano’s Wellington frustrated Victory as they kept their 12th clean sheet of the season and the 100th in their Isuzu UTE A-League history.

The last time these two teams met at AAMI Park, it ended 1-1 in November despite Wellington’s incredibly ending the match without a single shot.

This time around, the Phoenix registered six throughout the 90 minutes and Italiano felt his side could have scored twice inside the first 10-15 minutes.

“My plan was to come here and try win 4-0,” Italiano smiled having been asked if the match went to plan. “It didn’t quite end up like that.

“Nah, that was a fantastic match to be part of. I thought (Tony) Popa’s (Popovic) subs and his approach was quite smart because it kind of sopped us doing what we wanted to do. (Daniel) Arzani coming off the bench, (Jake) Brimmer – it’s a different dynamic. Whereas if they’re starting, it’s different with their subs.

“From that part, it neutralised us a little bit. Taking that into the next game, we might have to be a bit creative.”

Italiano added: “When I saw the line-up, the naïve part of me thinking maybe they’re a bit gassed from the weekend (Elimination Final win over Melbourne City on penalties).

“Then I’m thinking the eight-day recovery, so then if you finish stronger, then he thinks maybe we don’t have the depth to counter that. That was a good ploy if that’s what he meant.”