Latest signing a major boost for Phoenix

SAM WORTHINGTON
Last updated 05:00 15/02/2013

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The Wellington Phoenix were due some good news and signing Carlos Hernandez on a two-year deal is a genuine coup for the beleaguered club.

The former A-League MVP is the biggest name to sign with the Phoenix in their six-season history and will put bums on seats at Westpac Stadium.

At 30, the Costa Rican playmaker is far from washed up and the Phoenix will back sports scientist Ed Baranowski to whip him into shape when he arrives for pre-season training in June.

Though the move is not without risk, the owners deserve applause for opening their cheque books, and coach Ricki Herbert for being able to pull it off.

He's not a top-name player but Hernandez would not have come cheap and his arrival may spell bad news for some Phoenix favourites.

Among those out of contract at the end of the season are All Whites Mark Paston, Leo Bertos and Tony Lochhead and imports Dani Sanchez and Alex Smith.

Given that midfielders Sanchez and Smith have slipped out of Herbert's first-team plans they would seem surplus to requirements next season. Paston, Bertos and Lochhead may potentially have to take pay-cuts if they want to extend their stays.

While thrilled with the Hernandez capture, Herbert - whose own role at the club next season is uncertain - admitted there were some big decisions looming.

"[Hernandez] fits in the salary cap so it's always a little bit of mathematics to squeeze it in but I'm really pleased," Herbert said.

"He has such a good profile in the league that it's great to have that signing here. It's a good sign from the owners, that they've supported the signing, and I think he'll be terrific."

Herbert said he had been chasing Hernandez for some time but negotiations had stalled because of the death of his father.

Hernandez is contracted to Indian club Prayag United but is currently mourning in Costa Rica.

"Right from the outset he was keen and unfortunately the issue through his family . . . we kind of backed off with respect to him," Herbert said.

"But he's done what he said he would, a couple of months ago, and he's put pen to paper."

At times during Hernandez's Victory career there were concerns about his fitness, but if he turns up in shape there is no doubt he has the ability to take the Phoenix's midfield play and set-piece delivery to another level.

He scored 40 goals - many of them spectacular - in 138 games with the Victory.

Phoenix goalkeeper Glen Moss admitted he was "surprised" Hernandez chose Wellington.

Moss was a Victory team-mate of Hernandez during his outstanding 2009-10 campaign.

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He said the Phoenix were not only getting a "fantastic player" but also a "great guy".

"He's an amazing signing really, one I didn't think we'd get, so more than happy to have Carlos on our team," Moss said.

"I'm surprised that we got him. A player like that has a lot of options so for him to choose Wellington is hopefully saying [something] about where the club's going in the future. Carlos is a great guy and everyone knows he's a fantastic player. Just a really bubbly, confident character.

"I guess like a lot of foreigners he's really passionate about the game and that's contagious. So you'd rather guys like that around the game than the negative ones."

Herbert said Moss would replace Paston and make his first start of the season against the Brisbane Roar at Suncorp Stadium on Sunday.

He added Ben Sigmund, Bertos and Lochhead would also return to the starting XI after missing the embarrassing 5-0 loss against Central Coast.

And young Australian striker Corey Gameiro - on loan from English Premier League club Fulham - would start in place of the suspended Jeremy Brockie.

While they have plenty of their own issues, the Phoenix have struck Brisbane at a good time.

The Roar were bounced out of the Asian Champions League in a penalty shootout loss to Buriram United in Thailand yesterday.

AT A GLANCE

Name: Carlos Hernandez

Position: Attacking midfielder

Age: 30

Born: Guancaste, Costa Rica

Clubs: LD Alajuelense (2001-07), Melbourne Victory (2007-12), Prayag United (2012-13)

A-League record: 40 goals in 138 games

International record: seven goals in 35 games Highlights: Member of Costa Rica's 2006 World Cup squad, Johnny Warren Medal winner (2009-10)

- The Dominion Post

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