Phoenix announce Talay replacement: ‘We didn’t need to look outside the club’

Wellington Phoenix have announced assistant Giancarlo Italiano will take over as head coach of the club’s Isuzu UTE A-League outfit after Ufuk Talay’s departure at the end of the current season.

Italiano has been appointed as Phoenix head coach on a two-season contract, and will guide the club to the end of the 2024-25 A-League Men campaign.

Italiano joined Wellington in 2019 as the club’s head analyst and second assistant, before becoming Talay’s assistant coach ahead of the 2020-21 season.

He re-signed as ‘Nix assistant for a further two years in July, 2021; that contract was set to expire at the end of the current campaign. After Talay’s departure, Italiano will subsequently make the step up into the club’s head coach role of the men’s side.

Italiano cut his teeth coaching at grassroots level in New South Wales; he joined Sydney FC in 2017 as part of the NPL and National Youth League coaching environment, where he first worked with Talay and the likes of Graham Arnold and Steve Corica.

The 40-year-old has actually already coached two matches in the Isuzu UTE A-League, while Talay was missing with Covid-19 last season, guiding the ‘Nix to wins over Perth Glory and Brisbane Roar in the space of five days.

He credits the three coaches for aiding his development as a coach, and is excited to take what he’s learned from them over the years and apply it to his new role at the Phoenix.

“I’ve learnt so much under Uffy (Talay),” Italiano said. “I believe he is the best coach in the A-League, and I’ve had valuable lessons I don’t believe I would have got with other coaches.

“I’ve also been fortunate to see Graham Arnold work at Sydney FC, followed by his successor Steve Corica.

“Along the way I’ve seen how team environments are created and the inner workings of successful clubs. That experience fused with the time I’ve had with Uffy has really given me the confidence I can do well in this job.

“It’s unlike when we both came in four years ago and it was almost a clean slate, and we started a new playing style and a new philosophy.

“I’m going to build on the playing style that Uffy has put in, but with my own new ideas. I’m really looking forward to the challenge.”

Italiano becomes just the sixth head coach in Phoenix history and the first ever without a playing history at professional level.

In the club’s release, he is referred to as a ‘self-described nobody’.

However, he believes that actually works in his favour as a coach.

“I don’t have the luxury of being an ex-player at an elite level,” Italiano added.

“I’ve always had to over compensate with my knowledge of the game, my processes and thinking outside the box to make up that shortfall, whereas ex-players have the advantage of knowing the environment already.

“I think that’s benefitted me because I don’t take anything for granted, I make sure that I’m thorough in all my work and I always make sure my work ethic is high.

“I’m really grateful to Uffy, chairman Rob Morrison and the board for giving me the opportunity and believing in me.”

Phoenix chariman Morrison said Italiano, known at the club as ‘Chiefy’, is ready to take the reins after serving a “great apprenticeship” under Talay.

“He has helped unearth a number of players who have gone on to become Phoenix fan favourites, and together they have developed a style of play that has the team on track for a third finals appearance in four seasons,” Morrison said.

“We want to develop coaches in the same way we develop players and it’s significant that we didn’t need to look outside the club to replace Uffy. We were more than comfortable with the talent available within the club.

“New Zealand currently isn’t developing enough top quality coaches, so the Phoenix are looking to fill that void by investing in coaches as well as the next generation of players.”

Italiano is one of only a handful of coaches within New Zealand who holds a pro license, having recently completed the AFC professional coaching diploma.