They’d been looking far and wide for a marquee import striker. They weren’t going to sign just anybody, they said, it had to be the right player and the right person. As the season began and the Nix predictably looked short on attacking ability up top it was starting to seem like perhaps that selectiveness would be a hindrance. It’s not so much that they should have signed a rubbish player just for the sake of it, but considering they were so vocal about the fact that the club needed another striker, and that they’d had all this time to find one, it would have been a major disappointment not to be able to lock a bugger in. But we don’t to worry about that anymore because a big old beautiful #PhoenixAnnouncement came along on Thursday arvo (with a quality bit of suspenseful promo work) and Gary Hooper is our fella.
The CV reads superbly. A 31 year old English striker who has played and scored relatively consistent goals at a number of levels – from non-league to the Premier League. In fact according to his wikipedia page: “Hooper has scored in the Premier League, Championship, League One, League Two, FA Cup, League Cup, Football League Trophy, FA Trophy, UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League, Scottish Cup, Scottish League Cup and the Scottish Premier League, the first and only player to achieve this feat. On top of this, he has also scored in the Conference National and the Conference South”. Which seems a little too specific to be particularly special but it’s a very cool novelty.
Hoops began things at Grays Athletic in the non-league stuff after being a junior at Tottenham. He then signed for Southend which included a couple loans, before moving on to Scunthorpe and after scoring 30 goals in the 2008-09 season for them he was hot property. However he stayed and put another excellent season under his belt for the Iron before truly cashing in as Scottish superpowers Celtic swooped and bought the lad in 2010 for a cheeky £2.4 milly. In three seasons there he scored 82 goals in 138 games, twice making the PFA’s Team of the Year and winning the Scottish Premier League golden boot in 2011-12. Then it was off to Norwich City for a Premier League crack where he scored eight times in a relegated team, then got a few more as they won promotion again (but was loaned out after they got back to the top). Most recently he’s been at Sheffield Wednesday in the English Championship.
To say this dude comes well qualified would be an understatement. He’s a player of Paul Ifill calibre, perhaps even greater given what he achieved at Celtic (although that was a few years ago now). He’s a top shelf finisher but he’s much more than a poacher too, capable of great skill and with the strength to cope with whatever’s thrown at him – always a useful attribute in the A-League. And when asked about it specifically he highlighted his link-up play too which is something we badly missed on the weekend. David Dome raised the idea that he might be the most qualified Nix signing ever and he might even be correct too. On paper he’s got the ability to be right up there with the best imports in the competition, the main question is one outside of the football: can he stay healthy?
Because injuries largely spoiled his time at Sheffield Wednesday, limiting him to just six games last Champo season all towards the end of things and he didn’t play ninety minutes in any of them, in fact he hasn’t played ninety minutes in a competitive match since December 2017... although the flipside of that is if he hadn’t been so injury prone then he’d never have had the Nix on this radar (he was in negotiations with an Iranian side earlier in the week but that fell through – and he’s admitted he had chats with the Nix prior to that so not sure if the Nix were first choice or the backup in that yarn but either way, no dramas). He claims he’s injury free these days so it’s all a matter of keeping it that way. Mate, I wanna see ya on that all-vege diet, getting in the yoga trips twice a day, no smoking or boozing, in bed by 9.30pm every night, mandatory meditation for at least fifteen minutes in the morning after a nutritious breakfast. Stick to the script, my son, and we’ll get there.
Super Hooper should slip in nicely next to David Ball in the forward line and he also puts a bit of pressure on Ball too as there’s suddenly a hint of depth in that position so performance levels need to be high. Or at least higher than the competition’s. Wouldn’t be stunned if Josh Sotirio keeps the race tighter than it seems for at least a couple weeks while Ben Waine looked half-promising in his cameo last week too. But of course there’s only one currency that matters and that’s wins and wins require goals so whoever’s scoring will get the gig. These are the kind of chats we can have when there are options. Gary Hooper emerging as the focal point suddenly means David Ball can be a complimentary piece and that puts this strikeforce in a much better state.
It sounds like that’ll be that until January at the earliest, Uffie called Hooper the last piece of the puzzle in the presser after all. But that’s fine. We got what we needed. I’m not prepared to go on record as saying this changes the outlook for the Nix or anything because first of all we need to see him in action to know how well it’ll go. Cillian Sheridan looked incredible his initial few subs appearances but then never quite took it to the next level – which I reckon was a lot to do with how Rudan used him but whatever. Sheridan also played for Celtic back in the day but never to the prominence of Gary Hooper. But also we have to be realistic about his injury history and as they say the best ability is availability. Then also there’s just a lot of unknowns about the Nix with such a young and different squad this season. If Steven Taylor pops a hammy and we’re conceding three goals a game then Hooper’s not gonna be the difference in that hypothetical. This means we have a complete squad now though. Hooper fills an obvious void and that gets the Nix up to scratch – the rest is all in the playing.
Hoops won’t be available this weekend however. It’s Sydney FC away at 8pm on Sunday and it’s about as daunting a game as we could expect at this time... although perhaps Uffie is still in the group chat and has a few tricks up his sleeve for how to counter his old employers. Plus let’s remember it was an away trip to Sydney that kickstarted the Rudan Revolution as well. Might as well have another crack and then Hooper will be ready to go for the Perth game the week after, which is at home. Yeah, that sounds like a plan.
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