What Should Mark Rudan Do With His Spare Welly Nix Import Spot?

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Christmas came early for Mark Rudan, thanks to his very own Santa Claus in the form of Roy Krishna. The three goals he’s scored in the last two games, taking him past Paul Ifill as the club’s all-time top scorer and earning the club four valuable points, were great. Brilliant in fact. Reignited the season in these early stages. But that wasn’t all, he also went and picked up his New Zealand citizenship in between those two games.

You know what that means. It means that when the transfer window opens again on January 3 the Wellington Phoenix will have an extra import spot to work with, given Krishna can now be registered as a local. It ain’t something that comes as a massive surprise, we knew this was coming and it’s a bit of a bummer it didn’t happen before the season, but you never wanna take anything for granted when it comes to the slow, mechanical wheel of democracy. It’s done now and that’s what matters. Look at this smiling face!

The question now is what to do with that import spot. No doubt the Nix, knowing this would happen eventually, have been keeping their scouting tabs open. Taking their time to do the necessary research, the intense and comprehensive research that Mark Rudan talked up with his previous import picks. Probably had a few agents on the phone already chucking their blokes out there – we’re at a convenient stage now when seasons in USA and Scandinavia, for example, have come to an end for 2018 with a bunch of free agents let loose on the world. Those are two areas of the world where New Zealand players have been relatively common so the lines are open. Most European based players are going to already have clubs sorted for this season however that’s what the transfer window is for. If they can work a free transfer (or even a loan like with Michal Kopczynski) then the Phoenix are in business.

But what to do with that import spot. Which position to target. Hmm…

CENTRE-FORWARD

The obvious answer is that the Nix need a proper centre-forward. Somebody for Roy Krishna to play off of, a focal point to attacks, a player who can finish half-chances and get the team scoring some more goals. After seven games the Nix have just seven goals and that’s after scoring three against Sydney (before that they were bottom in the A-League in goals scored). This is a team that by its nature is probably not going to create a massive amount of chances so being able to put them away would be crucial. At the moment Roy Krishna seems like the only jerry in the team who can get a shot on target that isn’t straight at the keeper.

A genuine number nine in the side would do a few things. It’d give them some variety in their attack as well as making those attacks more threatening. It’d also take some heat off Krishna to score all the goals (he has four of their seven so far) as well as bringing some defensive gravitational pull away from him – and Roy Krishna in space is a beautiful thing. Having a forward who can play with their back to goal would be huge for dudes like Sarpreet Singh and Mitch Nichols to play off of too. Considering this team is pretty okay at the back already, an import striker would be first on the wishlist.

CENTRE-BACK

Haaaving said that… we do currently have a central midfielder starting in the back three. And an import midfielder too. Michal Kopczynski was signed up to be the main dude in the middle of the park but we’ve mostly had Alex Rufer and Mandi there instead, leaving Kopa to overcome a preseason injury with the WeeNix for the first couple weeks of the term. Lately he’s found a home in the back three with Andy Durante and Steven Taylor. There’s a good reason for that. It’s not uncommon to slide a defensive midfielder into back threes, they’ve got good cover around them for their defensive shortcomings while also providing a way more productive passing aspect to the backline. Kopa’s also had licence to step forwards into the midfield and add another number there when the opposition structure allows. It’s quite a funky set-up.

But what if we got a defender who could do that AND still be a top notch defensive scrapper? Because Kopa’s being covered by Dura and Taylor a fair bit and also, let’s be honest, Durante isn’t getting any younger. This might be his last season and what’s if he gets injured? Not saying that Leonardo Bonucci would be open to a stint in the A-League or anything but there’s gotta be somebody out there could shore up the defensive side of things while also adding quality in possession because I highly doubt that Rudan signed Kopczynski to play defence. Seems like a stopgap option and those are the ones you want to address in the transfer window.

MIDFIELD

Or perhaps we leave Kopa there, with Tom Doyle as cover, and bank on Krishna to stay fit and keep scoring goals. In that case then a look at the squad might just suggest a midfielder would tie it all together. They have two dudes who are playing quite well there at the moment in Alex Rufer and Mandi. Rufer has grown so much as he’s moved deeper and deeper, really beginning to thrive not as the attacking player he was in his youth but as a defensive midfielder who works hard, positions himself well, is deceptively physical and knows how to stick to the game plan. As for Mandi, he’s a classy and technical player as you’d expect from a Spanish import and he’s already making big improvements as he returns to full fitness after a long injury layoff and, at the same time, settles in to his new club. That was always going to take some time to get his rhythm going – his performance against Sydney was his best yet in yellow and black.

Two solid options for sure. Also two rather defensive options the way they’re being deployed. Two guys who don’t really have the dynamism in their game to also bring that link to the attack that the Nix need. Like, another striker would be nice. But even the best strikers are only as good as the service they get. It might be of more use to strengthen the foundations below them and a midfielder who can drive into that attacking third, who can link up with the players ahead of them without getting caught out that far forwards, would be huge. Mandi is starting to do a bit of that so maybe we leave it with him. Mitch Nichols has also chipped away deeper once, however that didn’t really work. He can’t tackle so not much point in that, he needs to be playing in the front three if he’s playing. A real baller in the midfield might bring out the best in those around them.

RIGHT WING-BACK

Purely in terms of the look of the squad, the weakest position is right back. Louis Fenton has done some good things and some bad things. He’s also the only proper option there. Dylan Fox and Ryan Lowry are not fullbacks. They can’t do that job unless it’s an emergency option. We need our wingbacks to be able to defend with distinction and also to be able to get forward and break the line of the opposition defence, swinging quality crosses into the box. Fenton gets forward but, like Count Dracula, crosses aren’t really his strong point. On the left we’ve got Tom Doyle and Libby Cacace who have been doing fine, no worries there, but it’s also fair to say we aren’t getting a lot of overlap on either side. This is part of why the attack has looked one-dimensional.

Yet you chuck a legitimate speedster on the right with an aggressive nature, looking to pay those give-and-gos in the attacking third, and it could be a different story. It’d probably upset a few people because right back is hardly the most glamourous area of the park to address. Strikers sell tickets. Right backs just do their job and make the team a more functioning unit… which is the difference between putting out the fire and simply swatting at the smoke.

NOTHING AT ALL

Then again… what’s if we don’t sign a new import at all? What’s if Mark Rudan doesn’t find somebody that fits any of those four bills and decides not to waste the club’s money and risk the team’s chemistry? That could absolutely happen and while it ain’t the preference it might not be a terrible thing.

See, right now the Phoenix have a squad of 20 players, which is the minimum allowed in the A-League. That means they can add as many as three more players. They can only get one more import. And Rudy’s open to the possibilities there. He’s having a geeze at potential imports but he’s also aware of those other two open spots and is keeping his eyes peeled on local options too. Both in Oz, no doubt, and also in Aotearoa.

Mark Rudan: “At the same time that we're looking for a visa player because we've got that spot, I haven't discounted, and have been watching, the local premiership as well. There are some players there that I've been making a list of who I'd like to bring in in January, if they want to come in. I'll be speaking to a few of them. So it's not just about an overseas player. I've been quite impressed with some of the local talent. But the A-League is a different beast and a different environment as well, but they'll be getting a phone call sometime soon and there is a couple of weeks break there in the league, so an opportunity to have a look at them in our environment as well. That process will start very soon.”

Myer Bevan is one guy who has been mentioned. After being released from the Vancouver Whitecaps without getting a game for the top team he could use the chance to play some matches and in the right environment he would certainly be good enough. They could do a lot worse in the search for strikers, that’s for sure. Cory Brown might be another option given he’s in the same situation as Bevan except he’s a left-footed defender who looks quite strong on the ball. Sounds useful.

Not to mention the many players in the Premiership who could fit those previously mentioned positions. Imports as well as kiwis. Think of folks like Andre De Jong, Cam Howieson, Callum McCowatt, Eli Just, Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi, Jack-Henry Sinclair, Tim Payne, Tommy Semmy, Andy Bevin, James Pendrigh, Sam Mason-Smith, Abdullah Al-Kalisy, Garbhan Coughlan, Fox Slotemaker, Justin Gulley, etc. Should I go on? Best not to.

Now, some of those players have already trialled with the club. Others, like the Ole dudes, are unlikely to go out of their way for the Nix until the Nix prove they’re a viable option for young kiwi players. But Rudan’s not leaving any stones unturned.

Ideally we’re looking at two local players and an import. That’d cover three of the four areas that need addressing, possibly all four if there’s a bloke who can cover multiple positions. If it were up to me then I’d be looking for a striker, whether an import or somebody like Myer Bevan. Absolutely gotta get another one of those. I’d also want to see a right-back added and probably a midfielder. How that all plays out probably depends on what they can do with this import spot first of all. There are options. Options are what you want.

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