Roly helps reel in Merrick's man

Patience, persistence and a little inside knowledge paid off for Wellington Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick when Dutch striker Jeffrey Sarpong signed a two-year deal with the club this week.

Sarpong, 27, who joined the famed Ajax Academy as a seven-year-old, has played over 100 games in the Dutch first division with Ajax and NEC as well as spending three years in Spain’s La Liga with Real Sociedad.

Merrick said the wait for Sarpong was worthwhile.

“It has taken a while but it can take a while when you are after better players,” Merrick said.

“We had some tough competition but we persisted and in the end got our man.”

Sarpong played alongside Phoenix midfielder Roly Bonevacia at Ajax and Merrick said that link had been crucial.

“It is always good when a regular member of your team is able to give you information on the person you are trying to sign,” Merrick said.

“You are able to get an insight into the lad’s character and what Roly had to say was excellent.

“On the football side Jeffery has pace and is a good one-on-one dribbler.

“Technically and tactically he is a good player who played 10 times for the Dutch under-21 side.

“He has just turned 27 so is at a good age and can get even better.”

Sarpong said it wasn’t an easy decision to move to the other side of the world but he was looking forward to living in Wellington with wife Stacey and 22-month-old daughter Zoe.

“I had a few options in Europe from good teams in good leagues,” Sarpong said.

“I had to think hard about what was best for me at this stage in my career.

“It wasn’t easy but the way the manager (Merrick) spoke swayed me.

“He knows how I play and knows areas I can improve in.

“Knowing that he wants to make me a better player was a key.”

Phoenix have been keen to boost their attack after losing Socceroo Nathan Burns one year into his two-year deal.

Burns, who chipped in with 13 goals last season – joint second highest in the Golden Boot race – has since signed with J.League outfit FC Tokyo.

Sarpong has often been used as a wide player and says that while he has plenty of assists to his name he wants to score more goals.

“It will be a challenge for me but I have a good feeling about the manager,” he said.

“I don’t know much about the A-League apart from what Roly has told me.

“I have had a lot of conversations with Roly because we are good friends and he told me about the league and what the Phoenix club was like.”

During his time at Ajax Sarpong played alongside Luis Suarez, who he described as “some player”, but soon it will be the likes of Michael McGlinchey, Alex Rodriguez and Bonevacia setting up goal-scoring chances for him rather than the mercurial Uruguayan.

In 2013 Sarpong signed with NAC Breda where he made 58 appearances for four goals. He was released at the end of last season and unsuccessfully trialled with Championship club Blackburn Rovers.

In 2009 he switched his national allegiance to Ghana - the birthplace of his parents.