Andrew Nabbout arrived at the Newcastle Jets in 2016 looking for a lifeline to a football career that had failed to really take off despite flashes of brilliance.
Less than two seasons under Jets boss Ernie Merrick and Nabbout had turned into a lethal attacker, earned a lucrative move to J-League side Urawa Red Diamonds and a ticket to the 2018 FIFA World Cup squad with the Caltex Socceroos.
Now, as the Jets return for their first day of pre-season ahead of the Hyundai A-League 2019/20 Season, Merrick believes he has found another player who can have a similar impact as Nabbout did in the Hunter.
Like Nabbout, Nick Fitzgerald has arrived at the Jets looking to re-ignite his career after a forgettable 2018/19 campaign with Western Sydney Wanderers.
“I’ve always admired Nick from a distance,” Merrick told reporters on Monday.
“My style of striker is someone who gets in behind and is quick and loves to get into goal scoring positions on a regular basis but can also play wide and knock in crosses and deliver to other players as well.
“Like Andrew Nabbout, Robbie Kruse and a lot of the players I have coached, [Fitzgerald is] very good on the ball, good technically, has speed…it’s just getting into goalscoring positions and giving them the belief they can score goals.
“[He] has 170 games under his belt and I think he can be a good goalscorer for us.”
And you can be sure scoring goals will be one of the key focuses for Merrick in the lead-up to the new season.
The Jets’ lack of goals was a major reason for them missing the finals in 2018/19, scoring just 40 goals from 27 games despite leading the competition in chances created.
It’s why Merrick is intent on nurturing Fitzgerald into a key attacking role, alongside fellow new recruit – Panamanian international Abdiel Arroyo.
“He [Arroyo] had the profile we were looking for: big, strong, very quick and is an in-behind type of player who gets on the end of things,” Merrick said of the 25-year-old who was part of Panama’s squad at the recent 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup.
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“Someone who has played that many games as an international must have a lot more skill than perhaps we have seen.
“With [Jason] Hoffman coming back and [Joey] Champness coming back in a month or so after his rapping [in the USA], we have a pretty powerful forward line.”
The Jets have a month to prepare for their first competitive match of the new season, the FFA Cup 2019 Round of 32 clash against Melbourne Victory at AAMI Park on Wednesday, August 7.