New Phoenix signing was caught up in match-fixing scandal

Marco Rossi is the latest signing for the Wellington Phoenix. Photo /Getty
Marco Rossi is the latest signing for the Wellington Phoenix. Photo /Getty

The Wellington Phoenix have signed Italian defender Marco Rossi who was banned for more than a year during the match-fixing scandal that rocked Italian football in 2011.

The 28-year-old has played in both Serie A and Serie B for a host of clubs including Parma, Sampdoria, Bari and Perugia and was most recently on loan at Varese.

Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick spent three months trying to convince Rossi to join the Wellington club following the retirement of Ben Sigmund at the end of last season. Rossi has signed for two years.

Merrick said Rossi was 22 at the time of the match fixing scandal and that he wasn't charged with match fixing but was suspended for not reporting an approach.

"We looked into his background fairly carefully and there's no doubt in my mind he's a good person. It's very important that we sign the right people for this club," Merrick said.

Italian football was rocked by a series of match fixing scandals. In 2006, it was largely systematic rigging at boardroom level and resulted in Juventus being relegated to Serie B. In 2011, almost 20 players received bans from football ranging from one to five years and in 2012 there was another wave of arrests.

Rossi is a tall centre back (1.93cm) and his signing rounds out the Phoenix's quota of five imports. He takes over the spot vacated by Albert Riera, who surprisingly retired at the end of last season.

"I'm sure the time spent on signing Marco will be well worth it," Merrick said. "It was vitally important that we replaced Ben Sigmund with an experienced player because you need two experienced players at the heart of defence.

"As a centre back it is very much about reading the play and starting possession from the back and Marco has the experience to do that.

"Centre back is all about judging the offside line and I believe Marco and Dura will form a good combination. No other country in the world has developed defenders like Italy and our young players like Dylan Fox can learn a lot from someone like Marco."

Rossi's capture won't be the end of the club's signings with Merrick looking for a fullback, defensive midfielder and a back-up striker.

Phoenix general manager David Dome said Rossi's signing was a key part in the club having a competitive squad for the 2016-17 season.

"The club is committed to Ernie's playing strategy of an exciting brand of football, hence the signing of Kosta Barbarouses and Gui Finkler with significant investment," Dome said.

"We will take our time in making further acquisitions but they will be completed before the season begins.

"If we put together the right squad it will help us achieve our objectives of increased attendance and television viewing figures."

Rossi arrived in Wellington in driving rain and bitterly cold temperatures after leaving Italy in 35-degree heat.

"It is a bit different that is for sure," a smiling Rossi said.

Asked why he had decided to join the Phoenix Rossi said he felt it was time for a change and wanted to try something different.

"I spoke to [former Socceroo] Vince Grella and he said it would be good experience to come down here. I also talked to [Socceroo goalkeeper] Mark Birighitti who told me a lot about the A-League and was really enthusiastic about it.

"I took my time before making the decision because going to the other side of the world is a big change."

The Phoenix kick off their new A-League season in October.

- NZ Herald

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