Phoenix snare All Whites star
All Whites winger Leo Bertos is returning home after agreeing to terms for a two-year deal with the Wellington Phoenix.
The 26-year-old, who has been linked with the Phoenix for several months, was off contract with fellow A-League club Perth Glory and negotiations fell through on Tuesday night, paving the way for him to agree to terms with the Phoenix yesterday.
It is a swift and encouraging start to the Phoenix's off-season recruitment, with Bertos' pace, in particular, providing something they have lacked.
Bertos, who played 35 A-League matches for Perth, has also been one of the better-performing All Whites during the past two years.
"It's good to have Leo back in Wellington. I think he'll add a lot to the team and it's the first of one of our major signings that we wanted," Phoenix chief executive Tony Pignata said.
"Over the course of the next few weeks we'll finalise the rest of the contract negotiations, but he'll be on a two-year deal."
In November Bertos expressed his desire to play for the Phoenix, telling The Dominion Post that he would like to return home.
"We had made our intentions known that when he did come off contract, we'd like to be the first club he speaks to," Pignata said.
"Once we agreed terms, we were both happy, so there was no point waiting around."
Pignata agreed Bertos' pace was an attraction.
"Leo is a quality player, he's played in Australia for a number of years and he'll be a great asset.
"He's a very pacy player. It's one of the key characteristics we need."
But Bertos would not be available for this year's O-League, should the Phoenix be allowed to enter the competition in its final stages in April.
"My understanding, in regards to the O-League, is that it would only be our current players, as at October 2007," said Pignata, who claimed Bertos' arrival did not mean Australian Ahmad Elrich, also a specialist right winger who is contracted till June 30, was on the way out.
Meanwhile, Pignata said rumours that Newcastle Jets defender Andrew Durante and All Whites defender Ben Sigmund had already signed with the Phoenix were off base. The club was not in talks with either.
"In fairness to Andrew, he's still playing in the finals," Pignata said.
"Once the finals are over for Andrew and if he wants to have a chat, I'm more than happy to call his manager.
"We're going to have a look at Ben over the next few months in the NZFC."
Should be great for the Phoenix, but it's a little disappointing he didn't try his luck in Europe.