The scriptwriters couldn't have planned it any better. And Mark Rudan knew it was coming the moment he agreed to become the new coach of Hyundai A-League expansion club Western United FC.
Having left Wellington Phoenix midway through a two-year deal to return to Australia, Rudan expected to come face-to-face with his former club in the opening round of the 2019/20 Season.
And here we are just three days away from the historic first match for the competition’s newest club, and Rudan’s first return to Westpac Stadium.
It adds further spice to what promises to be a dramatic Sunday afternoon in the New Zealand capital.
Phoenix chief David Dome this week warned his former coach to expect a frosty reception from Phoenix supporters, but Rudan is taking it all in his stride.
“I certainly have no ill feelings towards the Phoenix. I think it’s great,” Rudan told a-league.com.au.
“I understand completely that as a competition we need to build rivalries and we have one straight off the bat.
“Being a new club it’s great for us as well. And every good story has a villain and a hero.
“I guess I’m the villain for one side and the hero for the other one. I’m happy to play either part it doesn’t really bother me.”
“Here at Western United we’re looking forward to the first game irrespective of who we’re playing against, it just so happens to be against the team I coached last year.”
Phoenix fans couldn’t get enough of Rudan for the large part of the 2018/19 campaign, as he transformed the club from basement battlers to genuine contenders.
The side set a club record for goals scored last season, while they returned to the Finals Series for the first time in four years.
But things turned sour when he decided he wanted a return to Australia, eventually agreeing to coach the newcomers, Western United.
Rudan then got under the skin of Phoenix fans a little more bringing across three players with him in Andrew Durante, Filip Kurto and Max Burgess.
“Irrespective of what happens going forward, one thing I do know is the game never stops. Players, coaches, they always move on but the true fans will always appreciate and respect their football club,” Rudan said.
“Maybe in 10 years’ time [the fans] may look back at it and say ‘there’s a bit of animosity there right now but we had a damn good year that year and it was a fun place to be’.
“I had some great times at Wellington, it’s a year I’ll never forget. The players that were involved and the staff that were involved, we put smiles on the faces of the fans there as well.”
FIRST GAME: Preview of Sunday's clash against Wellington Phoenix
WESTERN UNITED: Click here to see the full 2019/20 fixture list
Phoenix have replaced Rudan with ex-Sydney FC assistant Ufuk Talay, who was also released midway through his contract with the Sky Blues for his first shot as a senior Head Coach in the Hyundai A-League.
The irony of that appointment is not lost on Rudan.
“The funny thing is both coaches have left halfway into two year contracts. That’s the joke I have with Uffy [Talay] all the time is that he got away with it scot free,” Rudan says with a smile.
“No one said anything to him about moving halfway into a two-year deal but I get all this animosity.
“Someone like Wellington Phoenix has never really had a rival in the A-League. As much as you tried to create one last year it was hard because there was no real competitor or rival there. And now it’s there.”
PANAGIOTIS KONE: Why Western United will challenge in Hyundai A-League
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