The Wellington Phoenix will be based in Australia for at least the start of the 2020/21 A-League football season.
Due to travel restrictions brought on by Covid-19, the club's players and coaching staff will assemble from Monday in New South Wales (most likely Wollongong), to begin preparations for the new campaign, starting on December 27. That'll give the Phoenix eight weeks to get up to speed ahead of their first game, with the playing schedule to be released next month.
The majority of Wellington's squad are currently based in New Zealand and Australia with attacker Ulises Davila travelling from his home in Mexico and goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic returning from holiday in Germany. Quarantine will be required for Davila, Marinovic and some of the Australians who need to cross state borders, but the New Zealand based players and staff can enter New South Wales without quarantining.
"The logistics of bringing them all back together and flying them from wherever they are into Australia has been challenging," said General Manager David Dome.
"We're right in the middle of that now and hope to be assembled in Australia next week."
The Phoenix spent 80 days away from home to complete the Covid-interrupted 2019/20 season, and with the possibility of another six months in Australia, the club is doing what it can to replicate home surroundings. Most notably, some players will have their families or partners with them and the team won't stay in hotel accommodation.
With just 11 players confirmed on the Phoenix roster, news of signings and re-signings are expected in the coming days with Dome hinting at least two international players will be added to the squad to replace departed imports Gary Hooper, Steven Taylor and midfielder Matti Steinmann. Others to have left include Australian utility Brandon Wilson and Kiwis Libby Cacace, Callan Elliot and Callum McCowatt.
It's believed off-contract Australian defenders Walter Scott and Liam McGing have been released, but there's less clarity over the return of veteran centre-back Luke Devere. All Whites utility Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi has reportedly inked a contract extension while Sam Sutton will almost certainly earn his first professional deal. Fellow Academy graduate, goalkeeper Zac Jones may also be offered a full-time contract.
Others linked with the club include All Whites James McGarry and Clayton Lewis and Australian youth international Joshua Laws.
"It's not as if we haven't been signing players," said Dome.
"We've made a lot of signings; we just had to tidy up a few things. We had to get to a stage where we knew what we were doing and where we were going to be based so everyone knew what was expected of them."
"Now we're getting closer to that we can go back to the players, (tell them) what it's going to be, announce them and get them on a plane," said Dome.
While resigned to starting the season in Australia, the Phoenix will look at the possibility of playing home games in New Zealand if a trans-Tasman bubble opens. That would be dependent on changes being made by the New Zealand government around the two-week quarantine process and the costs of relocating the side back to New Zealand.