Herbert backs Bertos for role at the back

FUTURE SECURED: Leo Bertos has had his contract with the Wellington Phoenix extended.
FUTURE SECURED: Leo Bertos has had his contract with the Wellington Phoenix extended.

Leo Bertos is suddenly the favourite to play right back for the Wellington Phoenix this season while coach Ricki Herbert remains confident of landing a foreign striker to round out his squad.

Manny Muscat played well at right back last season but will revert to a holding midfield role - where he is equally adept - this season.

Initially Herbert was lining up Vince Lia at right back but Lia has been battling a knee injury in the pre-season and Bertos has jumped the queue.

"It's something I'm seriously considering, I think he'd be great at right back," Herbert said.

"Athletically he's good enough, I think internationally he's proved, when he's been in a defensive role - if not in a flat back four but in a wider midfield role with defensive responsibilities - he's coped with it. It might take him a bit of time and he'll have a few ups and downs along the way but he's got good pace, his distribution is really good so he's got strong qualities to play there. I think Leo could kind of make that position his own."

The Phoenix have one import slot to fill and Herbert said the club was working through a "really good list" of transfer targets.

"We've got three or four conversations going on as we speak so hopefully off the back of this pre-season tour, we should have everybody in place. That's really the big piece of the jigsaw that we want to finish."

The club also needs to sign two under-21 players and all seven Phoenix academy members will board the plane today for the pre-season tour of Australia and India.

The Phoenix play the Newcastle Jets in Weston tomorrow before carrying on to India for a four-team tournament.

"We've got a number of new players, some new staff and we haven't really had a pre-season tour of any stature for a long period of time so hopefully it's good for us," Herbert said.

"It was an opportunity that was floated to the club . . . so a different part of the world and an emerging part of the world in football. Probably not one that would roll off your tongue but it's something we're all looking forward to. I think the stadiums we will play in will be pretty good."

The games in India are against United Sikkim in Guwahati (August 24), a yet to be confirmed I-League team in Impahl (August 26) and Shillong Lajong in Shillong (August 30).

The tournament final or third-fourth playoff in Shillong will complete the visit on September 1.

Lia, Jimmy Downey, Dani Sanchez and Lucas Pantelis will all miss the tour because of injury although only Pantelis has been ruled out of the season opener against Sydney FC on October 6.

The Dominion Post