Soccer: Bertos at home at the back

By Daniel Richardson

Leo Bertos. Photo / Getty Images
Leo Bertos. Photo / Getty Images

Two starts into his positional switch to right-back, Leo Bertos is beginning to feel at home.

The 30-year-old joined the Wellington Phoenix in 2008 having spent the majority of his career playing as a right winger or attacking midfielder, and it was down the right flank where he had made himself at home during his first four seasons with his hometown club.

But as Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert continued to search for a right-back and previous stopgap measures Manny Muscat and Vince Lia were required elsewhere on the paddock or hampered by injury, Bertos put his hand up during pre-season training.

"Obviously I'd played a fullback role with the All Whites for the last couple of years so I've been pretty familiar with how to defend and how to play that position, so it wasn't really a hard transition," Bertos said.

"I think we've had players to fill in that position. They've done good jobs but their ideal position, for example Vinny and Manny, they prefer to play in the middle of the park and I guess that position was up for grabs in the pre-season.

"I had a chat with Ricki and thought I could give it a go and we don't really have anyone that owns that position so I stuck my hand up and said I'd give it a bash and see how I go with it. I've been doing alright so hopefully I can make it mine."

The benefits of playing Bertos at right-back have already been evident for Herbert during the early stages of the A-League season.

Bertos has started two of their three outings - he missed their second game against the Heart due to international commitments - as the Phoenix remain unbeaten.

His move allows Herbert to make the most of his stacked midfield and use Louis Fenton and Paul Ifill on the wings with Benjamin Totori from the bench. Bertos at right-back gives the Phoenix are a more attacking team.

During the first five seasons of the Phoenix's existence, the major criticism of the side was their inability to score goals. With Bertos keen to get forward from defence, it adds another dimension to their play.

"We've got a pretty quick squad this year - a lot of young boys in there and a lot of energy - and I think we are very attacking-minded compared to previous years," Bertos said.

"Playing in that position, naturally, I go forward a lot and I like to attack because that's what I've been doing my whole career and it helps that the team attack going forward. There's nothing better than attacking. You don't want to defend the whole game, that's for sure."

The next chance the Phoenix have to showcase their new-found attacking flair will come tomorrow night when they meet top-of-the-table Adelaide United at Hindmarsh Stadium across the Tasman.

Hindmarsh hasn't been a kind venue to Wellington in previous years but, with the Phoenix's attacking philosophy and range of goal-scoring weapons in the form of Fenton, Ifill, new recruit Stein Huysegems and proven A-League performer Jeremy Brockie, they're more than a starter's chance.

The Phoenix will also welcome back skipper Andrew Durante who missed last weekend's 1-1 draw with the Brisbane Roar due to illness.

- APNZ

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