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New Zealand women’s coach on ‘special leave’ after player revolt

Wellington, New Zealand: New Zealand women's football coach Andreas Heraf was placed on "special leave" Wednesday as officials launched an investigation into his running of the team after a player revolt.

Following complaints from players, New Zealand Football (NZF) said it had appointed an independent investigator to review the "environment" surrounding the national team, known as the Football Ferns.

It came as NZF chief executive Andy Martin revealed at a press conference that 13 players had said they no longer wanted to play under the Austrian.

"We hold player welfare as a matter of utmost importance and that is why we are conducting a thorough, independent review," NZF president Deryck Shaw said.

"There is no place for inappropriate behaviour of any kind with New Zealand Football.

"We are very disappointed to be in a position where some of the players from within the Football Ferns have felt the need to formally lodge a complaint with NZ Football and would like to thank them for coming forward." 

Talk of dissatisfaction within the team began circulating after their tour of Spain in March, following which New Zealand's most-capped player, Abby Erceg, retired in frustration. 

Erceg later described the Ferns' tactics as "cowering in a corner", saying she would prefer to lose a game while trying to win it. 

"That's my mindset, and if you tell me I can't do that, then I can no longer represent that shirt with pride or conviction," she said.

But player criticism reached a peak following this month's 3-1 loss to Japan, after the team were told to play an ultra-defensive game because Heraf believed they "could have lost 8-0" with a more positive approach.

New Zealand are ranked 20th in the world but the Austrian said they "will never have (the) quality to compete with" 11th-ranked Japan, the former world champions.  

Heraf, who is also the NZF technical director, has been given notice of the investigation "with a proposal for suspension, in the meantime he is on special leave with immediate effect from his roles," New Zealand football said.

Heraf is a former Austrian international but before moving to New Zealand, most of his coaching career had been with Austrian sides at age-group level.

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