Ernie Merrick has made his first signing as Wellington Phoenix coach, luring former Perth Glory backup goalkeeper Lewis Italiano across the Tasman.
Italiano was released by Perth in April but has starred for the Oakleigh Cannons in the Victorian Premier League.
Merrick's spies rated Italiano as the best shot-stopper in the VPL, and Phoenix goalkeeping coach Jonathan Gould is familiar with the young Australian from his time in Perth and regards his big frame and attitude as good attributes.
Despite that, Italiano, stuck behind Danny Vukovic at Perth, will almost certainly start the 2013-14 A-League as the No 2 behind All White Glen Moss.
The experienced Moss is fit again after injury, and the now-retired Mark Paston limited him to just four appearances in the 2012-13 season.
The signing of Italiano may upset some in the New Zealand football community, with national under-20s representative Scott Basalaj and Auckland City's Jacob Spoonley worthy of consideration for contracts.
The Phoenix squad now numbers 15 after Merrick released Tony Lochhead, Alex Smith, Dani Sanchez, Benjamin Totori, Jimmy Downey and Lucas Pantelis last week.
Merrick has identified a top-quality striker and a key midfielder as crucial to his recruitment plans, with young Kiwi left backs Ian Hogg and Luke Rowe to be given opportunities to impress in training.
Star signing Carlos Hernandez, who agreed to terms under previous coach Ricki Herbert, was due to arrive in Wellington tomorrow, but his arrival has been delayed because of visa difficulties. bert - was due to arrive in Wellington tomorrow but his arrival has been delayed due to visa difficulties.
- © Fairfax NZ News