Talay says new midfielder is ‘a very big signing’ for Wellington Phoenix

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Wellington Phoenix coach Ufuk Talay says the club has landed “a very big signing” with the capture of midfielder Steven Ugarkovic, a veteran of 167 A-League appearances.

The Phoenix have signed Ugarkovic on a one-year deal for the 2022/23 Isuzu UTE A-League season to help cover the absence of captain Alex Rufer, who will miss the start of the season with a knee injury.

Ugarkovic (27) spent five years with the Newcastle Jets going all the way to the grand final in 2018.

The former Australian under-23 international joined Western Sydney last year and featured in all 26 of Wanderers’ matches in the recently completed 2021/22 season, scoring three goals and creating one other.

“I’ve always liked Steven, even before he signed with Western Sydney,” Talay said.

Main photo: Ufuk Talay … excited to have Ugarkovic at the Phoenix. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / Phoenix.

‘Playing him alongside Lewis and Pennington is a big boost for us’

“Firstly he’s a good person and secondly he’s a very good footballer that has an abundance of experience within the A-League.

“The two sixes play a very important role in our team and to bring in a player of Steven’s quality alongside Clayton Lewis and Nicholas Pennington is a big boost for us.

“He’s a very big signing for the club and I’m very excited to have a player of his calibre within our squad.”

The chance to play under Talay drew Ugarkovic to the Phoenix.

“The big pull is Uffy as a coach. He’s someone I feel like I can learn under a lot from, on and off the field,” he said.

“His brand of football played an important role in my decision. Playing against Wellington, it’s always hard to break them down. They’re very structured and everyone knows what their job is.

“That’s what I like and that’s what I think I need to go to the next level.”

‘To experience that crowd at Eden Park was incredible’

He was also drawn to the Phoenix by the 15,245 fans that turned out at Eden Park to watch the match against his former club, Western Sydney, in April.

“To experience that crowd there at Eden Park was incredible.

“I’m looking forward to playing in front of the Phoenix fans because the connection with your supporters is important to me.

“I enjoy getting involved with the fans and I’m not just saying it for the sake of saying it.”

Steven Ugarkovic missed a penalty in the match at Eden Park, meaning the Wellington Phoenix are the only A-League club he hasn’t scored against.

“Let’s hope it stays like that,” he said.

“The missed penalty was just a mishap. The field was very slippery and things like that happen in football so you’ve got to be big enough to get over it.

“I was big enough to step up and take the penalty so I’ve got to be big enough to take the consequences and move on.

“People might say a few things and I’m sure I’ll cop a bit of stick for it when I join the team.”

Ugarkovic will assemble in Wellington early next month for the start of pre-season training.

He will wear the no. 5 shirt for the Phoenix.


This story is reproduced with the assistance of the Wellington Phoenix.