Vamos! Wellington Phoenix reveal another Mexican Magician

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Wellington Phoenix coach Ufuk Talay has seemingly done it again, uncovering Gael Sandoval, another Mexican playmaker who has put the league on notice during his debut.

It was just another dark day for Wellington Phoenix fans when their outstanding playmaker, captain, and Johnny Warren medal winner Ulises Dávila decided to leave the team behind in the recent off-season.

But even back then, Phoenix coach Ufuk Talay was confident that the club could find a suitable replacement their Mexican star, stating that he would “make sure to find the right player who fits into our philosophy and character.”

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Well, Talay has seemingly gone and done exactly that.

Although it may have taken a little longer than Wellington would have liked due to Covid restrictions, Christmas came early for Nix fans when the club announced they had completed a loan deal for Mexican, Gael Sandoval on December 20th.

The buzz of the signing could be felt by Nix fans all around. Just the day before, Wellington had suffered their third straight A-League Men’s loss, as the void that Dàvila had left behind continued to grow with each winless match.

Apart from an impressive resume in Mexico’s top division no one really knew much about Sandoval and how he played, but did they even need to?

It was soon released that the 26-year-old Sandoval had received the tick of approval from Dàvila himself. Talay had reached out to his ex-captain before making the deal as the two had played together in Mexico 2016. This connection alone was enough to get most Nix fans extremely excited.

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But even if there were still any doubts lingering in regards to the Mexicans talent, they were all well and truly squashed during Wellingtons 2-1 win over Western United on Friday night.

Three weeks since their last A-League match, Wellington were finally able to unleash their new import, who had been available to play since the league transfer window opened up on January 14th.

Within just the first 30 seconds Sandoval demonstrated his class, lofting a perfectly weighted ball across the pitch towards fellow winger Reno Piscopo. After a few more exquisite touches early on, it was in the 16th minute when the Mexican showed exactly why Talay had pursued him.

After an Alex Rufer ball wasn’t properly cleared by United’s defence, fellow import Gary Hooper was the first to react, feeding a pass to an unmarked Sandoval in the box. The Mexican then did the rest, placing a well timed shot into the bottom corner of the net.

It is safe to say that the celebrations were then well and truly on for both Wellington’s players and their fans.

As well as doing his job well, Sandoval put a few more tricks on display before being taken off with twenty minutes to go. It was an inspiring first performance for the winger, one which helped his side secure three points.

Talay, who is the mastermind behind the only two Mexicans who have ever played in the A-League, was pleased with his newest playmakers first performance.

“It’s always very satisfying when a new player comes is both influential and effective,” he said. I was really pleased to see him score a goal and hopefully scoring boosts his confidence even more as well as the teams.”

Even though Sandoval was outstanding during his debut, Talay expressed that the Mexican still has a lot to learn in terms of Wellington’s tactics and strategy of play.

“It’s a slow process,” he stated.

“Gael has only had a few chances to train with us and this was his first proper game with the team, so there is still more to learn around our tactics and how we want him to play.”

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But no matter how long it takes for Sandoval to get up to speed tactically, he seemingly showed everything a fan would have wanted to see in terms of his football skills and talent. The fact that he displayed this element of his game is something that didn’t surprise Talay.

“At the end of the day, I believe that good players can adapt to any situation. No matter where you are in the world football is football.”

On the other side of the loss, Western United coach John Aloisi explained that his team thought they prepared well for the new Mexican, but admitted his side could have handled Sandoval better in certain areas.

“We knew a little about him from watching some footage of him playing in Mexico, so we understood that he had quality,” explained Aloisi.

“We knew that he liked playing down the left side while drifting into the middle so we prepared for that. But he’s a quality player and he showed that with the goal but I still feel like we could have defended him better.”

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It seems that all A-League coaches may need to start preparing for a second Mexican playmaker in the competition now that Sandoval has properly introduced himself.

And although a fluke seems unlikely, all fans and members of the A-league will be waiting and watching to see if the new Mexican is going to truely cement himself as Wellington’s newest talisman.

His next chance to do so will be when the Phoenix play their crucial FFA cup semi-final against a strong Melbourne Victory side next weekend.

Feature image credit: Speed Media

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Harry Bartle
Harry Bartle
Harry is a young Journalist based in Wellington. He will be covering the Wellington Phoenix during the 2021/22 season for the Football Sack and has a love hate relationship with Ulises Davila

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