Gary Hooper wants to stay with Wellington Phoenix.
The experienced English striker has been a vital cog in the A-League side's best season, but is only contracted to the Phoenix until the end of August. However, from quarantine in Sydney ahead of the competition's resumption, Hooper has told NZME he's keen to extend his stay.
"Yeah, I'd be happy to come back," he said.
"Obviously we've got to get this season done first and then see where the club is at for next season. I'll probably have a word with the gaffer (coach Ufuk Talay) in the next month or so, or he'll have a word with me, and we'll go from there.
"I loved Wellington, once I got used to it. Even though it's miles away and windy, I lived in Scotland so it's quite normal, that weather and wind.
"I didn't know what to expect but a few of the lads showed me around and when it was good weather it was really nice. My missus and kids loved it as well. They enjoyed living on the beach," Hooper said.
A-League squads can contain just five foreign players. Three of those spots are taken for next season by fellow Englishmen Steven Taylor and David Ball, and Mexican attacker Ulises Davila. The other – German midfielder Matti Steinmann – is believed to be in negotiations with the club over extending his contract. Retaining the same five imports for consecutive seasons is virtually unheard of in the A-League, and has never happened at the Phoenix.
Hooper came to Wellington as a proven goalscorer, having netted 198 goals in a 16-year professional career, including strikes in the Champions League, Premier League, English Championship and Scottish Premier League. In 95 games for Celtic across a three-year stint in Scotland, he scored 63 times. However, he was dogged by injury more recently, and hadn't played 90 minutes for over two years when he arrived in New Zealand in mid-October.
After a slow start and the building of his fitness, Hooper's impact on the Phoenix has been significant, particularly since the turn of the year. Wellington won seven of their last nine games before the season was halted, with Hooper starting all but one of them. He's scored six goals, including four in the last five games, and chimed in with a further four assists.
"I like playing with two strikers and two (number) tens who want to play football," Hooper said.
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"The main thing is playing football and enjoying it. I don't like long ball and all that rubbish. But we've got good footballers and it shows in the way we play. We're also very fit and getting up and down the pitch, which in the A-League you need."
The Phoenix squad has reassembled in Sydney for the completion of the season, which resumes on July 16, with the 27 remaining regular season and five finals matches to be played before the end of August. The Phoenix are third with six games left, but just four points behind second-placed Melbourne City with three games in hand.
Having travelled home to the UK during lockdown, the first two weeks of Hooper's time in Sydney have been spent alone in a hotel room. He'll reunite with his teammates next week, along with Davila, who is also self-isolating after time in Mexico.
Hooper turns 33 in January, but isn't looking to wind down his career just yet. Putting pen to paper with the Phoenix for another season is just the next step, not the last one.
"I'm playing until I can't. I'm not finishing any time soon. I just want to play football and score goals."