With the FFA Cup game in the rearview, the preseason process is back on track for the Welly Nix. That means a bunch of friendlies against local sides and it means a bunch of chat coming out of training sessions about how good the lads are looking and how well they’re adapting to what the gaffer’s asking. And, of course, it also means putting the finishing touches on that squad.
Since the last Nix write-up, they’ve added two more players to the unit: Matti Steinmann and Reno Piscopo. Steinmann is a German midfielder with Bundesliga experience, a 24 year old who’ll probably sit in beside Alex Rufer. He joins on a single year contract from Hamburger SV where he’s been in the academy system since he was a teenager, though most of his senior appearances came out on loan and that’s where we get a couple Wellington Phoenix connections because one of his former loan teams is Chemnitzer FC where Tom Doyle just signed, so that’s cool. What’s more is that he was a part of the Germany U20 squad that made the quarterfinals of the youth World Cup in 2015 which was held, you may recall, in Aotearoa. The old Steven Taylor stratedy of targeting a fella who’s already toured the country before. Can’t say we don’t leave a good impression, aye?
Also in that German squad were current Borussia Dortmund lads Julian Brandt and Julian Weigl as well as, curiously, goalkeeper Timon Wellenreuther who is the number one at Willem II keeping Michael Woud on the bench down the stretch of last season. No Bayern players though, they were too cool for that U20 World Cup so guts to all Sarpreet Singh’s new mates. Meanwhile the kiwi side boasted plenty of Welly Nix talent past and present, including current players Oli Sail, Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi, and of course Alex Rufer.
Moving on to this other fella now and Reno Piscopo is a 21 year old Aussie/Italian winger, coming here fresh out of six seasons in Inter Milan’s academy and a year at Serie C side Renate. His father is Italian and his mother is Maltese but he was born and grew up in Melbourne before he moved to Italy aged 12 when the Inter thing happened. Piscopo actually represented Italy at youth level but declared his intentions to play for Australia a few years back and has since gotten a few runs at U20 and U23 level – where he’s in the mix for their Olympic qualifying squad after impressing in camp so far. Which also means he has a prior connection with Ufuk Talay which is a pretty useful sign when so many of his old players are keen to follow him. Piscopo has signed a three year contract and will count as a local player.
The Steinmann thing is normal, he’s an import midfielder signed to fill a role for this season. You don’t really expect imports to back it up year after year with the exception of a rare few so a single year contract is natural (they’ve already done well to get Ball and Davila on two-year deals). If Matti loves it he might get another go – Steven Taylor’s the only import from last season still here and he had an automatic extension clause. Ideally he’ll add a little more grit to the middle of the park while also expanding on their passing range similar to how Mandi was a more technical and distributive midfielder alongside Rufer last season… although Uffie’s system looks a little more like he wants two defensive midfielders there, which would allow cover for the fullbacks to press forward plus there are four attack minded players in front of them anyway, all playing relatively centrally (at least to start with). So maybe no gut-busting runs from Steinmann then… we’ll see how he fits in but you’ve gotta assume that for such a crucial area of the park Uffie Talay knew exactly what he was looking for.
This Reno Pescopo thing is way funkier. As a winger/number ten type player he’s not an exact fit for this squad but he’s easily adaptable enough to make it work. Would assume he’s being lined up to play some striker too since there aren’t winger positions in this formation and the dual number ten roles are pretty well stocked with possibilities including one valuable import. Sorta liken his standing in the squad to someone like Jaushua Sotirio. But Pescopo is more than just a squad player… he’s an investment.
According to Ufuk Talay the Nix even paid a transfer fee for the fella, which is odd since he’d been hanging out in Melbourne the last few months assessing his options but apparently he still had a year to run on his contract with Renate so there you go. The Nix had never paid a transfer fee for a player before. By the way, according to Reno himself the Nix won out over other clubs (specifically the Melbourne trio) due to Ufuk Talay’s express intention to offer minutes to young players.
With Piscopo signing a three year contract on the back of a transfer fee that Italian media have suggested reaches up into the six figures, you can probably guess the story here. If they’re paying money for him then that means two things: one is that they owe Sarpreet Singh another box of chocolates or something because his fee from Bayern has made this possible and two is that they’re intending to make their money back before the end of these three years. Get a year or two producing the goods for the Welly Nix and then sell him for a little boost to the ol’ coffers. Singh’s transfer has opened that whole avenue up to the club. Most transfers won’t involve Bayern Munich’s bottomless wallet but even just a few cheeky dollars never goes astray. Worst case scenario is we get three decent years out of one of Australia’s best attacking prospects.
This is one of the more hyped up versions of what has been a deliberate trend from Talay and the Nix to target younger players. Younger players who are more desperate for an opportunity at this level, who are therefore more likely to move to Wellington (as far as the Aussies go), and who will probably be cheaper than their ability is worth. You’re locking in potential in the hope that it grows to flourish and then suddenly your relatively cheap looking squad is vast outperforming that cost. This was the case with the players that Talay inherited and it’s been the case with the players he’s signed as well. Three of the four oldest players in the squad are imports. The other is a veteran centre back (DeVere). He’s signed a couple kiwis plus Sotirio in their mid-20s but chuck Piscopo in there are there’ll be eight players aged 21 or younger in the senior squad. Only three players were born in the 80s. Steven Taylor is three and a half years older than anybody else in the squad. Just gonna go out on a limb here and assume that Stevie T doesn’t get control of the aux cord in the team bus.
(By the way, the youngest senior contracted played in the squad? Still Libby Cacace).
This is a risky approach though. Young players can be notoriously inconsistent plus the A-League is a very physical battlefield to be scrapping away in when you’re still filling out muscle. Worth mentioning that most of the older fellas will form the core of the starting eleven and there’s still one more import to be added, who you’ll assume will bring some more age and experience to things (unless they give David Browne a crack!?!?). The minimum squad size is 20 and the max is 23. They’re at 19 as it stands not including Ben Waine who is still on a scholarship deal this season so they wouldn’t need to add any more bodies after that final import... but you never know. There’s room if they want to, a lot will depend on how the depth chart shapes up through preseason and which players aren’t going to be expected to see as much action. Your depth is only really as good as however far down the roster you can go before you hit a player you wouldn’t trust off the bench in the last five minutes of a playoff game.
Personally I reckon they’re a defender short, considering the injury histories of Taylor and DeVere and with only Liam McGing a natural replacement (Payne and TAHW can both play there if necessary, especially TAHW, while maybe Steinmann can chip in, who knows? But they surely need another CB). After that… maybe another pure striker? Either that or a legit right back who can lock it down defensively since all our options there are converted players. Hudson-Wihongi looks like a possibility worth exploring there.
But that’s all a conversation for later in the preseason after a couple more games have shone some additional light on things. We’re now at a stage where there’s one more import to be added, probably with at least a couple roster spots left open which will be a boost for a couple academy fellas hoping to push through the crowd over the course of the season. But, yeah, you can read about all that next time.
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