Lewis Italiano is Ernie Merrick's first recruitment in his new tenure at Wellington Phoenix. The 22-year-old was on the books at Perth Glory in 2012/13 but did not make an appearance due to the health and consistency of first choice Danny Vukovic. Italiano is expected to back-up Glen Moss at the Phoenix.
While Merrick has promised to bring in foreign players, his first signing is hardly spectacular or exotic. Yet in the Australian youngster, the Wellington manager has addressed his back-up keeper role as Moss becomes the starter with Mark Patson's retirement. Moss is just 30 and has been in the A-League with Wellington, Melbourne Victory and Gold Coast United since 2007.
Italiano is currently playing under Miron Bleiberg at Oakleigh Cannons in the Victorian Premier League. He will join the Phoenix after September 1, when his Cannons contract comes up. With Moss expected to be with New Zealand for World Cup qualifying at the start of the A-League season, Italiano could see an immediate opportunity under Merrick, though he is unlikely to challenge for the no. 1 for the full season.
Of Italiano, Merrick said in a club press release:
"He has had a very good season in the VPL. I've had several reports saying he is the best goalkeeper in the league. Also, our goalkeeping coach Jonathan Gould worked with him for a season at Perth and knows his character, ability and potential...Because of the situation the Phoenix is in regarding the number of national team players in the squad, it is vital that we have two good keepers with World Cup qualifying games coming up."