Merrick looking for mix of youth and experience

SAM WORTHINGTON
Last updated 05:00 20/06/2013
Ernie Merrick
ROSS GIBLIN/Fairfax NZ
LEARNING CURVE: New Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick gives some instruction to his captain Andrew Durante.

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An experienced spine, with youth and energy on the flanks, is Ernie Merrick's vision as the Phoenix coach prepares to put his foot on the pedal in his recruitment drive.

Tuesday's addition of Lewis Italiano as a back-up goalkeeper means Merrick can now focus firmly on outfield players with at least five signings to come.

The priorities are a speedy striker and a key midfielder and a good chunk of the remaining salary space will have been allocated for those two positions.

Merrick's desire for another striker is interesting given Jeremy Brockie, Paul Ifill, Stein Huysegems and Tyler Boyd are already on the books.

"I still think we need a high striker that's very quick," Merrick explained.

"That's the modern game, speed up front. In an ideal world we're looking for a proven goalscorer. It's not good enough that Jeremy Brockie was the only person scoring goals consistently last season. So everyone's got to be under pressure up front to score goals. I don't think it'd be such a bad thing to bring in another player there, especially now that we've let Benjamin Totori go."

Merrick is happy with the existing spine of his team.

Glen Moss will be in goal, Andrew Durante and Ben Sigmund in the heart of defence and Manny Muscat and Carlos Hernandez in central midfield.

Brockie and Ifill are proven A-League quality, but Merrick feels he can take some educated punts with his fullbacks and wingers.

"The spine of your team's got to have maturity. Goalkeeper, centre backs, centre midfield, attacking midfield, a Carlos-type down the middle, Brockie, Ifill. But the wide players, fullbacks and wingers, you can take a risk on with younger players. Given the energy they need to play those positions now, and the pace, I'll be looking for talented, skilful, technical players but also good speed and engines, up and down type players. It's a good starting position for some youngsters because they've got the game in front of them as fullbacks. They're not turning and getting caught behind sort of thing."

Merrick said the Phoenix were talking to a few potential recruits but were trying to be shrewd with their money.

"We're not going to splash out unnecessarily and it'll take a while, however long it takes. We've got till October and we'll try and do it properly."

Left backs Ian Hogg and Luke Rowe are being given opportunities to win contracts and Merrick said he would also look close to home for a right back.

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"I think I've got a couple of options in the team. I won't be able to talk about them until I've tried them there and I'm really quite convinced they can play there. Not only with our existing players but with the school of excellence and a couple of other players I'm looking at. We've got a few options."

The Phoenix will also be on the lookout for a new operations manager after Mal Impiombato announced his resignation yesterday.

Impiombato has been with the Phoenix since the club's formation but will leave on July 2 to take up a position with Football Federation Australia.

"I've loved every minute of my time with the club,' Impiombato said.

"There have been plenty of highs and lows along with a lot of sweat and tears over the last six years and the club will always be in my heart."

- The Dominion Post

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