New Phoenix signing gets straight to work

SAM WORTHINGTON
Last updated 05:00 24/09/2012
Ricardo Clarke
DAVID HALLETT/Fairfax NZ
UNDER PRESSURE: Wellington Phoenix forward Ricardo Clarke is pressured by Western Sydney's Nikolai Topor-Stanley during their pre-season match in Christchurch.

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Phoenix general manager David Dome insists the loan signing of Panama teenager Ricardo Clarke is not a random punt.

The 19-year-old has signed with the Phoenix as an injury replacement for Spaniard Dani Sanchez, who had surgery on his knee this month.

Sanchez may be out of action until December and the Phoenix have reached a loan agreement with Clarke's Panama club Sporting San Miguelito.

The Phoenix had scouted Clarke's credentials in the off-season before settling on Belgian Stein Huysegems as their fifth and final import player.

Clarke joined the Phoenix in Christchurch on Saturday and came off the bench in yesterday's 1-1 pre-season draw against Western Sydney Wanderers.

"We'd looked at Clarke for a while in the off-season for a number of roles within the club, as injury replacement cover and as a permanent," Dome said.

"He was on the radar for a while and we thought it would be a good opportunity to bring him out and see how he goes."

Dome said Clarke was a versatile player and, like Sanchez, could operate as an attacking midfielder, winger or striker.

"We've seen lots of footage of him. We've got contacts around the world and we asked our people on the ground there and they all rate him as a highly promising young talent."

If Clarke turns out to be a star, the Phoenix would have to re-evaluate their import options.

Paul Ifill, Alex Smith, Benjamin Totori, Huysegems and Sanchez are the club's foreign players.

"Ricardo's length of stay with us is dependent on Dani's recovery. Depending on what happens after that, then we'll look at it but we fully expect Dani to come back this season," Dome said.

"Any further relationship with Ricardo after the Sanchez injury would be up for discussion at the end of the season."

Sydney FC have also secured a loan player from San Miguelito this season, pacy winger Yairo Yau.

The Phoenix open their A-League campaign against Sydney in Wellington on October 6 and Dome said interest in Alessandro Del Piero's league debut saw 1000 tickets snapped up on day one of sales on Friday.

"It's setting records in terms of pre-sales."

Meanwhile, Dome confirmed Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert would be absent for the round two game against the Heart in Melbourne on October 14.

Herbert is coaching the All Whites against Tahiti in Papeete on October 13.

"We've looked into all sorts of possibilities about trying to get players and coaches back in time but there's physically no way."

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Assistants Chris Greenacre and Jonathan Gould will take the reins while several of the club's academy players are likely to make their league debuts.

"It is unfortunate but there is no alternative."

Dome said he was still working through the paperwork involved with fielding the non-contracted players.

He was also hopeful New Zealand Football would allow the school of excellence players to then revert back to Team Wellington straight away instead of enforcing a one-month stand-down.

- The Dominion Post

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