Perth Glory will fight hard to stop All Whites star Leo Bertos joining the new Wellington A-League franchise.
Bertos, who will be a key player when New Zealand takes on World Cup finalists Costa Rica today, has one year left on his Perth contract.
The Wellington-raised midfielder-striker told the Sunday Star-Times yesterday that he wants to play for Wellington, but will probably have to wait until 2008-09 to link with All Whites and Wellington coach Ricki Herbert and a slew of international team-mates.
Bertos, 25, who trialled with a Greek first division club at the end of last season, said Herbert has spoken to the All Whites about joining Wellington, but any contract talks will wait until they finish their two-game South American adventure.
"We'll have to wait and see what happens with Perth. As a Wellington boy I'm keen to play there but I have a year left and Perth want me back. But I started playing in Wellington and the fact it's up and running is very exciting." Perth currently has two contracted foreign players - New Zealanders Bertos and Jeremy Christie - and coach Ron Smith said the club has decided to keep their remaining two foreign positions open.
Meanwhile, Herbert's 12-match reign takes a new step today when he sends out a re-tooled formation on an artificial pitch in front of 24,000 fans, playing a three-man defensive line of Che Bunce, captain Danny Hay and Steven Old against the world's 50th-ranked team.
They will start behind a midfield five with Noah Hickey and Tony Lochhead on the flanks ahead of holding midfielders Tim Brown and Ivan Vicelich.
Bertos will round out the flooded midfield, playing centrally in the hole behind strikers Shane Smeltz and Jeremy Brockie. Herbert admits the formation is a gamble, but is determined to cover all tactical bases before New Zealand launches their bid for a start at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa when Oceania qualifying begins in October. "It's something I've been thinking about for a while given the types of World Cup opponents we're going to face. I'm keen to look at opportunities to get more players in the midfield. This is a formation we've never played before and we've only had two training sessions to work on it. It may provide an extra dimension to our World Cup campaign or it could prove the wrong decision - but we'll never know if we don't try.
He said all the players had trained well and there were no injury concerns.
"I've been delighted by their attitude. They've bought into what we are trying to do with the new formation."
Herbert conceded Costa Rica's ability could negate some of the attacking options he believes a five-man midfield will give.
"A wingback like Tony Lochhead might only get in two quality crosses compared to, say 12, against an Oceania opponent but that doesn't mean he can't do it - we have to be positive against these better teams," Herbert said.
His bold philosophy puts the acid on Smeltz and Brockie up front, with Jarrod Smith and Fulham midfielder Chris James to provide punch off the bench. "We've gone for a front two and that again will put more defensive responsibility on players behind them. But our defence will be initiated by the front two - we expect them to work very, very hard in transition (from attack to defence)."
Costa Rica will be a daunting challenge on the artificial turf in San Jose's Richardo Saprissa Stadium.
Bertos confirmed that the ball bounces higher, putting the emphasis on getting the ball down with a good first touch. He said he was frustrated by not scoring in the A-League last season, but won strong reviews for his assists (nine, equal third in the league) and work-rate.
"I took more shots than anyone else for Perth. I can't say what went wrong but there wasn't a lot of luck going around," he laughed, adding that breaking the drought against Costa Rica would be at the back of his mind.
The home side beat world No. 54 Panama on penalties a month ago to capture their sixth Central American title and qualify for July's Conacaf Gold Cup, but will be without their most famous player of recent times, former English premier league marksman Paulo Wanchope.