Phoenix boss confirms star’s departure & finishes season with ‘amazing’ final word

Wellington Phoenix head coach Giancarlo Italiano revealed Oskar Zawada has played his last game in yellow and black, after the striker scored in his side’s 2-1 Isuzu UTE A-League Semi-Final defeat to Melbourne Victory on Saturday night.

Wellington and Victory went head-to-head in the second leg of their Semi-Final tie in front of more than 33,000 fans at Sky Stadium; the Phoenix finished second in the regular season and were favourites to progress to the Grand Final but were knocked out by Victory.

After Adama Traore put Victory ahead with less than 10 minutes of regular time to play, Zawada scored a 99th-minute equaliser to give the home side hope. That hope was quashed in the first half of additional extra time as Chris Ikonomidis gave Victory the 2-1 lead his team ultimately held to the final whistle.

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In his post-game press conference, Italiano was asked about the future of the star Polish striker; the conversation between reporters and Italiano shed light on the respective futures of Zawada and fellow Phoenix marksman Kosta Barbarouses:

Reporter: “Do you think we’ll see Kosta Barbarouses and Oskar Zawada back here next season? 

Italiano: “You won’t see Zawada here, no. But definitely Kosta Barbarouses.

Reporter: “Has Zawada signed somewhere?

Italiano: “I don’t know, you’ll have to ask him.

Reporter: “Why is Zawada leaving?

Italiano: “Probably twofold: the available money that we have doesn’t allow us to retain every player we want, unfortunately, because we’ve done well this year, the marker has obviously pushed the value of those players up, and I want to reinvest some of that money into some of the younger players that I think I want longer-term.

“For me, I made that decision. Oz at the beginning of the year was looking to move, didn’t get that move and I think there’ll be heaps of suitors for him.”

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“I’m pretty confident I’ll keep Kosta. He’s very happy here and deserves another contract. I won’t speak too much to the money side because that’s not for me.

“Every club is in a different position. There are some clubs still spending a lot of money next year, there are some that unfortunately have to make some cuts. I think that’s the reality for a couple of clubs.

“We have a very good owner, a very good football committee, they put a lot of investment into the club, I think they’ll want to be competitive next year again, with an emphasis on youth, emphasis on trying to build on what we’ve done. For me, we just plan accordingly.”

“There’ll be a group next season with the majority of the players that have taken part tonight,” Italiano added. “Whether it’s two or three players that leave, there might be a little bit more, there’s still a chunk. But I think what’s more important is we’ve built that experience now, as part of the foundation of the club to move forward.”

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If Zawada has in fact played his last game for Wellington, he’ll depart the club having created one last priceless memory for the Phoenix faithful to cherish.

Although it came in agonising defeat, his 99th-minute goal to send Saturday night’s Semi-Final to extra-time caused an eruption of noise inside the ‘Cake Tin’.

Italiano says he’s been to World Cup games, and a Superclásico – but he’s never experienced anything like what happened in the aftermath of Zawada’s goal against Victory.

“The energy of the whole stadium was electric,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve ever felt anything like that. I’ve been to a lot of big games, the whole place just buzzing and it was an unbelievable feeling.

“That was the best feeling of scoring in the last minute I think I’ve experienced in my life. I’ve been lucky, I’ve been to a Superclásico game, and I’ve been to a World Cup – that was just an amazing feeling, something I’ll never forget, hopefully something the fans will never forget. 

“That was amazing. It would be a dream of mine to think one day every game is like that. It’s possible in Europe, it’s possible in South America, all across the world.

“I just think the league can get healthy enough that we’ll have that rivalry and every game is sold out. It doesn’t have to be 33,000, it can still be a packed stadium, it can be 10, 15 (thousand). But just that atmosphere at every game would be unbelievable.”