The post-Roy Krishna era of the Wellington Phoenix has begun with one of the more impressive kiwi signings this team has ever made. Stefan Marinovic has joined the Welly Nix on a two year contract, directly replacing Filip Kurto as the number one with the gloves and with that a regular All Whites starter has returned to the motherland. And young Aussie fella Walter Scott popped up with a contact the very next day.
Stefan Marinovic is exactly the type of player that gets regularly linked to the Nix thanks to various levels of delusion that see any All Whites regular who fades out of favour in the slightest way at their pro clubs overseas supposedly emerge as options for the Phoenix (at least in the eyes of fans). And, like, of course the Nix are gonna put in a call if someone like Marinovic or Bill Tuiloma or Marco Rojas or Jeremy Brockie or Clayton Lewis or whoever might be available… but realistically those dudes are entrenched in a different battle and aren’t ready to give that up. With the way that the Nix have expanded the Flying Kiwis pool in recent years, boosting up some top notch talent in the academy, it’s always a weirdly conflicted feeling when talk emerges that the Nix are looking to shrink the talent pool by bringing established pros back home when they could be offering new pathways.
But Big Stef is in a unique situation. He emerged with SpVgg Unterhaching in the lower leagues in Germany where he was playing well below his ability by the end of it. Then he leapt up to the MLS level with Vancouver Whitecaps after the Confederation Cup in 2017… quickly establishing himself as the starting keeper (as a way of edging out their long term GK for financial reasons) but only lasting one more season before they unexpectedly declined his option. Marinovic was using up an import spot which made him expendable for an underperforming team with a new coach but the dude was well and truly scapegoated there, with stats floating around about his low shot-save ratio and similarly dumb anti-football ideas which conveniently ignored the fact that if he was conceding a lot of goals relative to shots faced then perhaps those shots were coming from way too dangerous areas because his defence and midfield weren’t offering a shield. But nothing is ever guaranteed so we all move on.
Marinovic then did some things on trial with Hull City and Rangers and the latter sounded like a decent pop for him only to find Steven Gerrard randomly signing an ex-Liverpool youth keeper instead and Stef was on the move once more, landing in Bristol City on a short term contract after injuries had ruled out their two main keepers. He was lumped into a battle for the gloves with local prospect Max O’Leary, which obviously had him at a disadvantage with the fans from day one, and he didn’t help himself with some clumsy feet in his only Championship game for the club, a 1-1 draw with Birmingham City. His shot stopping was pretty solid, the actual goalkeeping aspects, but his poor touch made it clear he hadn’t hardly played for several months. It also made him a punchline with fans convinced that he’s the worst goalkeeper that’s existed – those twitter mentions were absolutely brutal, mate.
O’Leary got the nod until Finland’s number one Niki Maenpaa retuned right at the end of the season and gaffer Lee Johnson several times went with the odd decision of not picking a reserve keeper despite Stef being fit and ready, wanting that extra attacking option on the bench in the midst of a desperate push for the playoffs. But they crumbled down the stretch anyway and Marinovic was released at the end of his contract.
That’s the story. Several prominent opportunities for a talented goalkeeper but it didn’t work out for him the way he’d have hoped. He wasn’t able to connect with fans and he didn’t get to play a whole lot of football – only one senior game since the end of October 2018 and that’s, yeah, that’s a long time. He needs regular football, he could use a welcoming crowd, and let’s not ignore that this extended drought of All Whites games has put him in a strange situation too just as Michael Woud is turning his immense potential into legitimacy. Put simply, Stef’s no guarantee to be the starting All Whites keeper when they (eventually) next play in November. That’ll be two months into the next Eredivisie season and a lot could have happened by then.
In other words this is one of the rare occasions when an All Whites regular actually needed the Wellington Phoenix as much as the Wellington Phoenix needed him, which is why this happened. Don’t expect that this means they can go out and get this level of kiwi footy player on the regular but defs enjoy the fact that they got this one because he’s probably the best imaginable replacement for Filip Kurto that they could have found.
On a talent level, Big Stef at his best is on par with Filip Kurto. That’s only my opinion but I don’t say it lightly either. Kurto was the GK of the Year in the A-League last season and Marinovic has that potential as well, just gotta get him back to his peak All Whites form rather than what he showed for Bristol City and iron out the inconsistencies of his Whitecaps spell. But in a more comfortable situation, where he can focus on his football without feeling his career is at stake, he should be fine. And Kurto faded in the last couple months too, which might have been more to do with injuries in his defence but he’d also already all but agreed to sign with Western United by then.
And then there’s the fact that this clears up an import spot elsewhere without having to make a sacrifice in quality within the squad. Which is rather essential considering that there’s no local option that can replace Roy Krishna’s influence. It also probably means we’re done with signing keepers, as Oli Sail will resume his spot as backup on the bench while Zac Jones, the third string keeper at the U20 World Cup recently, will likely have the same role with the Nix playing regularly for the WeeNix in the Premmy.
There’s a lot left to do here. The squad still only has nine players in it and that’s after Walter Scott was confirmed. Nine players with Sail and Scott probably only backups so not even close to a starting eleven let alone a wider squad with proper depth. But Scotty should hopefully add a bit of that to the mix. He’s primarily a left-back and at 19 years old he’s worked with Uffie in the Aussie youth setup. Played twice for Perth Glory last season but left chasing better playing opportunities and here they are.
Ufuk Talay: “I have brought in the young full-back to provide depth in the squad as he can play multiple positions across the backline. Walter is a very talented young player with great potential that I’ve worked with in the Young Socceroos. I believe he has a great attitude and mentality and his style suits the way I want to play this season.”
When you mention depth in the first sentence, you know the bloke isn’t being targeted as a week one starter. But with a supreme left back already – shots to Libby Cacace - it’s extremely useful to hear that Wally can cover “multiple positions across the backline”. Because, you know, right back was a real bitch to fill last season after Louis Fenton went down injured and even if Tawa’s Own Puskas is back at a hundy for preseason then he’d still be a selection question if Talay wants to play with a back four. Always helps to have guys pushing for contention.
Stefan Marinovic and Walter Scott join Liberato Cacace, Sarpreet Singh, Steven Taylor, Louis Fenton, Oli Sail, Alex Rufer, and Callan Elliot under contract for next season, with Ben Waine and Gianni Stensness extremely likely to be involved in some capacity too (whether on senior contracts or youth deals). That’s a nice core dominated by young kiwi players, which is a cool place to start. But it’s only a start. We need a couple strikers. We need a couple more midfielders. We need at least one more centreback. There are gaps all over the field and for better or for worse it looks like the Ufuk Talay Era is going to be quite different from the Mark Rudan Era after all.
At least we’re slowly beginning to get rolling now, though. Signing Stefan Marinovic was a statement of intent. A couple more in that tier and we should be sweet – no surprises that the main priority now shifts towards a top shelf centre forward. Might even crack the top half of the table next time around if they get one.
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