He felt he was no longer the right person to take Wellington forward, but Ernie Merrick believes he’s the man who can haul embattled Newcastle out of the A-League doldrums and back to finals football.
In Merrick, the Jets have hired one of the competition’s most seasoned and decorated coaches as a replacement for sacked Mark Jones, the third rookie manager to get the flick in as many years.
As a veteran of 241 A-League games with Melbourne Victory and the Phoenix, the 64-year-old dual championship-winning mentor brings exactly the depth of experience chief executive Lawrie McKinna and owner Martin Lee were after.
“I’ve never lost the motivation,” Merrick told AAP from Scotland on Tuesday after signing a two-year deal.
“Resigning from Phoenix after eight weeks [last season] was frustration at an impossible situation, and it was time for someone else to have a go.
“But to get this opportunity in a region like Newcastle, which is historically strong in football, next to winners like Lawrie and Joel Griffiths, I’m looking forward to achieving something at the place.”
His challenge, he says, won’t be so much on the field as it will be rebuilding the damaged morale of a club that’s just slumped to a second wooden spoon in three seasons.
“For seven years they haven’t made the finals. It’s hard to know why that’s occurred. There’s no fault, these things just happen,” he said.
“But I know what it’s like to have success … and this is not a five-year plan, it’s a one-year plan. I want to make the finals in season one.”
Merrick said striker Roy O’Donovan was an excellent signing from Central Coast, as was Melbourne Victory’s Daniel Georgievski, who won the Joe Marston Medal in Sunday’s grand-final loss to Sydney FC.
Further recruitment will be the first priority when he returns to Australia in a fortnight.
“A lot of coaches talk about building from the back forward,” Merrick said.
“I’m the opposite, I like to build from the forward back and see if we can get the ball up to the goalscorers.
“That’s why I’ve enjoyed coaching the likes of Archie Thompson, Robbie Kruse, Nathan Burns, Roy Krishna.”