Victory targeting January reinforcement as D’Agostino eyes European move

Nicholas D’Agostino reportedly on the cusp of a European move and Luis Nani set for an extended period on the sidelines, Melbourne Victory boss Tony Popovic says that the club is looking for January reinforcements to join Bruno Fornaroli and Tomi Juric in its attack.

A week on from losing Nani for the rest of the season with a torn ACL, reports from Norway have linked D’Agostino with a move to Eliteserien side Viking FK, the current home of Socceroo defensive utility Gianni Stensness. Although the deal was not yet official as of Friday morning, it’s understood that, in relative A-League Men terms, the fee for the 24-year-old — who has a year and a half on his contract — will be “considerable”. 

Popovic, for his part, didn’t seek to deny the speculation of an imminent move when asked about his striker’s availability for Victory’s meeting with Perth on Saturday but did say that, until the deal was confirmed – which he mused could potentially happen within hours – that he was planning for D’Agostino to travel to West Australia. 

Melbourne Victory coach Tony Popovic
Image Credit: Melbourne Victory

“Obviously, we’re delighted that our young players are being looked at by clubs and we’re very supportive of them progressing their careers,” he said. “But there’s nothing official, and while there’s nothing official, we plan for Nick to travel to Perth.”

Barring any last-minute developments, D’Agostino’s looming move would leave Victory with Bruno Fornaroli and Tomi Juric as the recognised out-and-out strikers on the club’s books. 

However, 35-year-old Fornaroli, who signed a permanent deal with Victory at the start of the January window after previously playing on an injury-replacement contract, and 31-year-old Juric bring vastly different skill sets to the hard-running, pace and power of D’Agostino — something that Popovic acknowledged will need to be accounted for. 

“They’re very different types of players and have different attributes,” said Popovic. “Nick is very powerful, a real runner; it gives us a different type of strength. Bruno is a player that plays with so much intelligence, can hold the ball up and bring players into the game. 

“But they’re very good strikers in their own right. Bruno is a top player that has proven over the years what he can do, and Nick’s an emerging talent that has different strengths. 

“[D’Agostino] came to a club as big as Melbourne Victory, had never been a starter, and turned into a starting player for Melbourne Victory last year and made the Socceroos. And now we’re talking about clubs overseas being interested in him. So it’s wonderful news for Nick and for our football club. 

“And then on the other side of the spectrum, you’ve got a very experienced player in Bruno, who is talented and we’re delighted he’s here and he’ll play a big part [through the rest of the season] I’m sure.”

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Juric, for his part, has played just 15 minutes for Victory this season, none since last October, as he struggles to bring himself back to full fitness. The 41-time Socceroo hasn’t started or played a full 90 minutes since June 2021, when he featured in Adelaide United’s 2-1 semifinal loss to Sydney FC.   

Nonetheless, after playing in an internal friendly earlier in the month, the attacker has been named in Victory’s squad for their trip to West Australia, Popovic stating that the club had taken a “calculated risk” in signing him but was confident it could get the best out of him.

“[Juric] hasn’t played in such a long time. We know he’s talented, that’s why he was signed,” he said. 

“But it’s taken some time. He’s training. He needs more match minutes. 

“It’s a long process with Tomi, it’s not as simple as saying he’s fit, go play. We’ll assess him today and then decide if he comes with us.”

Defenders Roderick Miranda and Kadete have also been named in Victory’s squad for the Perth trip to face Glory, albeit Popovic preached caution surrounding the former as he continues his comeback from a groin injury. 

One player that will definitely be absent, though, will be Nani who, still under contract with Victory for 2023/24, is in discussions with the club on the particulars and locations of his surgery and rehab. 

His absence and the seemingly imminent departure of D’Agostino create an opening in the Victory attack, one that Popovic confirmed the club was looking at filling in the weeks ahead. 

“We’re bitterly disappointed [Nani] hasn’t had a chance to finish the season with us and hasn’t had a chance to show his best form.” said the coach.

“We’re looking in the market to see if there’s someone that we can fit in and someone that we can afford to bring in firstly, and someone that can fit in in such a short space of time.

“January’s not an easy market to tap into because you’re looking at players that predominantly aren’t playing or are not required in squads. So they arrive without match fitness, without the conditioning needed, so they take time. 

“We’re trying to find someone that, if possible, could fit in immediately and make an immediate impact. 

“Predominantly in the attacking third, we’re looking for someone. If they’re fit and healthy and have games under their belt then you’d like to think that the player could contribute quickly.

“We’re looking. We’re always looking. There are many contacts that we have that are putting players forward but we need someone that will make a difference and if we feel that that’s not there then we will go with the players we have. 

“Fortunately, I’ve got JD [Victory head of football John Didulica] and I usually push those calls and emails to him. So he deals with those first. He’s very busy in this period. That’s the nature of football. 

“And with the disappointment for Luis, an opportunity arises for someone else to come in and make their mark in the A-League and at Melbourne Victory.”

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