Wellington Phoenix FC (The Nix)
Manager: Ernie Merrick
Stadium: Westpac Stadium (Ring of Fire)
Finish Last Season: 10th (Wooden Spoon)
Predicted 2013/14 Finish: 5th at the conclusion of the regular season
Inclusions: Carlos Hernandez (Prayag United, India)
Kenny Cunningham (The Strongest, Bolivia)
Lewis Italiano (Perth Glory)
Luke Adams (Derby County)
Reece Caira (Western Sydney Wanderers)
Alex Rufer (Youngheart Manawatu)
Star Signing: Carlos Hernandez
The former Johnny Warren Medal winner for best player in the A-League signed with the Phoenix while the club was still under the care of Ricki Herbert. Hernandez will likely play a key role in the central midfield which is where he flourished under Ernie Merrick when the two were together at the Melbourne Victory. A proven goal scorer, Hernandez is just what the Phoenix needed.
Departure Lounge: Tony Lochhead
Key Loss: Tony Lochhead
Tony is the most capped player at the Phoenix with 130 games to his name. However he does not fit into Ernie Merrick’s plans for the future of the Nix and was released from the club.
What to watch for: The Costa Rican Duo
Kenny Cunningham was persuaded to come to Wellington by fellow Costa Rican Carlos Hernandez. Both players have international appearances for their country and will likely play in attacking positions for the Phoenix, with the common goal of tearing apart opposition defences. The duo has already proved fruitful in recent preseason matches with the pair linking on more than one occasion to find the back of the net.
The Key Player: Paul Ifill
The former Sheffield United and Millwall player has been a fan favourite at the Phoenix ever since he first arrived in 2009. Over the years Ifill has established himself as a proven goal scorer with a total of 31 goals while at the Nix. It’s no coincidence that the Phoenix play their best when Ifill is in good form and as one of the senior players of the team he will play a crucial leadership role in the 2013/14 season.
Club X-Factor: Alex Rufer living up to his family name.
Alex is the nephew of New Zealand footballing legend Wynton Rufer and originally trialled at the Nix for a place in the Football School of Excellence. However Ernie Merrick liked what he saw and instead offered him a place on the roster of the first team. At just 17 years of age Alex has a lot of work to do in order to earn a starting spot but with Rufer for a surname you wouldn’t bet against it.
What’s he still doing here? Leo Bertos
Last season Leo featured less and less in Phoenix games, usually coming off the bench and playing little part in the result of matches. This year he will need to lift his game if he wants to see quality time on the pitch with the likes of Jeremy Brockie, Carlos Hernandez and Kenny Cunningham likely to force him to ride the pine for most of the season.
After finishing as the recipients of the wooden spoon last season, it was obvious that there needed to be some drastic changes at the Phoenix. With Ernie Merrick coming on board they have got someone who understands what it takes to win consistently in the A-League and challenge for titles. He has wasted no time in clearing out the surplus requirements and has added quality players, none more so than Kenny Cunningham, to the squad that should ensure the Phoenix are major player in season 2013/14 of the A-League. With preseason wins over Sydney FC and Newcastle as well as a close loss to the Wanderers, expectations are already starting to grow in New Zealand which will hopefully translate to strong attendance figures at home matches.
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