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Opinion

Hooperman flies in to save the Nix

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Roar Rookie
20th October, 2019
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He’s scored in all the top four divisions in England as well as in the Scottish Premier League and in cup competitions in both countries, not to mention goals in both the Champions and Europa League.

Now Gary Hooper will have the A-League firmly in his sights.

In a week during which the Wellington Phoenix announced the signing of the former Celtic, Norwich and Sheffield Wednesday forward, the gloom has started to lift over Westpac Stadium.

It was a tumultuous off-season for the Nix, who had confounded critics last year by earning a top-six berth. First there was the departure of manager Mark Rudan to new boys Western United. Following him over the ditch to the new Melbourne side went skipper Andrew Durante and goalkeeper Filip Kurto.

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Add in the losses of young star Sarpreet Singh to Bayern Munich and competition top scorer Roy Krishna to Indian side ATK and it’s easy to see why many were tipping a season of struggle for the New Zealand outfit.

But those predictions may have to be revised with the arrival of Hooper, who has signed a one-year marquee deal to don the number 88 shirt.

It was his early exploits at Scunthorpe United that earnt the Harlow-born marksman a move to Celtic back in 2010, where the goals continued to flow. He scored 63 in 95 appearances, which generated rumours of him being on the brink of an England call-up.

A cap for the Three Lions never did materialise, though, and after three trophy-laden years at Celtic Park, Hooper made the move to Premier League side Norwich City.

Despite finding the net six times in the EPL, Hooper couldn’t avoid relegation with the Canaries and has spent the last four years in the Championship with Sheffield Wednesday.

Injuries restricted him to just six appearances last season before his release from Hillsborough.

Hooper will find fellow countrymen Steven Taylor and David Ball at the Phoenix. Geordie Taylor is in his second year now and has been handed the captain armband by new manager Ufuk Talay.

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It’s Ball, the former Fleetwood Town striker, that Hooper is likely to be paired with. Talay’s preference is to operate a 4-4-2 system, with Hooper no doubt the advanced forward playing off the shoulder of the last defender and making runs in behind, which he has done with aplomb throughout most of his career.

Phoenix’s slipped to a 1-0 defeat in their first outing this season against Rudan’s Western United, mustering only one shot on target in the process. The arrival of a proven goalscorer could not have come soon enough.

The A-League has become accustomed to seeing foreign imports arriving in the twilight of their careers, usually in their mid to late-30s with mixed results. For every Alessandro Del Piero that has been a Mario Jardel.

Hooper touches down in Wellington at just 31 years of age. Should he remain clear of the injuries that affected him in 2018, he potentially has another couple of good seasons to offer.

This A-League campaign has begun in a tight manner, with seemingly little between most sides. A striker of the calibre of Hooper might prove to be the difference in the Nix making the six and yet again making the critics eat their words.