The Post

Another hole for the Phoenix

- Phillip Rollo

Wellington Phoenix were not going to stand in Sarpreet Singh’s way when a major European club like Bayern Munich came knocking at the end of the Under20 World Cup. But the talented midfielder’s departure does leave another large hole on the roster.

Already tasked with replacing the team’s two main strikers, after Roy Krishna and David Williams both joined Indian Super League club ATK as free agents, new coach Ufuk Talay has now had to add a starting playmaker to the shopping list, following Singh’s life-changing move to Bayern Munich II on a three-year contract.

Singh’s departure drops the total number of Phoenix players signed for next season down to 11. Although academy product Ben Waine, 18, has signed a two-year contract, the first year is part of a scholarshi­p deal which means he doesn’t count towards the 23-person maximum.

Talay has already brought in two attacking players, New Zealand under-20 forward Callum McCowatt and Western Sydney Wanderers winger Jaushua Sotirio, in what is shaping as a major rebuild under the former Sydney FC assistant, while Waine has been upgraded after making three appearance­s last season but is more of a long-term prospect at this stage.

With four import spots to play with, Talay has hinted that the direct replacemen­ts for Krishna and Singh will likely come from overseas, while McCowatt showed by scoring 21 goals in 16 games for national league champions Eastern Suburbs last season that he is capable of challengin­g for a starting berth and should step into the void left by Williams’ departure.

Two of those imports could be announced as early as this week, with the Phoenix close to securing their first foreign signings. According to a report in Mexico one of those players will be 28-year-old Mexican attacking midfielder Ulises Davila, who most recently played in the Indian Super League with Dehli Dynamos but prior to that spent two seasons with LigaMX club Santos Laguna. Davila signed a five-year deal with Chelsea in 2011 but failed to make a single Premier League appearance and was subsequent­ly moved on.

Meanwhile, Talay confirmed that New Zealand under-20 midfielder Gianni Stensness, who was on a scholarshi­p deal last season and went on to make four appearance­s, has turned down a profession­al contract and will instead try his luck in Europe. Talay has also opened the door for a handful of New Zealandbas­ed trial players, who will link up with the team when they commence pre-season this week. However, he would not reveal who those players were.

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