Talay targeting goalscorer, normality, in 2022-23

After two years, Wellington Phoenix’s life out of a suitcase is finally, mercifully, coming to an end. But coach Ufuk Talay already has one eye on what lies ahead for his side in 2022-23. 

Phoenix’s 2021-22 season was ended by rivals Western United on Friday evening; Aleksander Prijovic’s 10th-minute strike enough to see his side advance to a two-legged semifinal with Melbourne Victory that will commence on Tuesday evening. 

For the Nix, it ends a journey that began at the start of the 2020-21 A-League Men season, one in which they have been forced to base themselves out of Sydney and Wollongong due to border closures wrought by the pandemic. 

With widespread vaccination and a general acceptance that international travel restrictions and lockdowns are now an absolute last resort, the club is expected to be able to resume standard service in the 2022-23 season: playing all of their home games out of New Zealand, rather than just the four they managed across the past two campaigns. 

“I think we had that feeling towards the back end of last season as well,” Talay joked in the aftermath of his side’s defeat to United. “That we were going to go home and play this season there. So hopefully things don’t change too quick with COVID. 

“I can’t see that happening. It’s nice to know we’ll be playing home and away. It will be nice to be able to train in Wellington, sleep in our own beds, and get ready for a game at home. 

“(I’m) not looking forward to the travel; I think the group will have to adjust again to the travel. We’ve been accustomed to travelling shorter distances while we’ve been based in Australia. It’s nice to know that we’re going to be back and have a bit of normality.”

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Beyond thoughts of home and something approaching normality, Talay’s thoughts will now turn to the makeup of his squad that takes the field in 2022-23. 

With over a dozen players already on the books for next season, some level of continuity is guaranteed. Nonetheless, with Jaushua Sotirio and James McGarry heavily linked with the Newcastle Jets and both Melbourne Victory and European suitors circling Reno Piscopo, some change seems inevitable. 

“At the moment we’ve got 14, 15 players signed for next season,” the Phoenix coach said. 

“We’ve got a few important positions that we need to fill with visa spots. At the moment we’re looking at a few players. For me, it’s no rush with the visa players. Visa players are important in the sense that they need to add value to the team. They need to have a point of difference. 

“We lacked probably a goalscorer this season. I think we shared the goals around with a few players but we lacked a real clinical player upfront and that’s something we’re looking for.”

And despite the challenges of the past two years, the months away from home, family and friends, and the existential crisis that threatened to swoop on his club, Talay says his appetite for football remains whetted. 

“Right now disappointed, but I love this game,” he said.

“This game has given a lot to me as a player. This club has given me the opportunity to become a head coach and I’m thoroughly enjoying the challenge. 

“I’ve got plenty of fuel in the tank.”

Enjoying Joey’s coverage of Australian sport? Your support helps keep it possible.
You’re seeing this advert because this is an unpaid, self-published piece.

You can support his ongoing work by buying him a coffee: https://ko-fi.com/joeylynchy 

Header Image Credit: Western United

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