ANDREW DURANTE took something of a punt joining Wellington Phoenix but his bet has proved a good one.
The 28-year-old, who will lead the Phoenix against the Central Coast Mariners in his 100th Hyundai A-League match on Saturday night, crossed the Tasman to join the Wellington club after a successful career with the Newcastle Jets, where he won a championship in 2007/08 having turned in a man-of the-match performance in the grand final against the Central Coast Mariners.
Few Australian football fans would have counselled Durante to make the switch to a fledgling club that was still finding its feet and working hard to restore the game-s reputation and credibility in New Zealand.
But Durante backed himself to make the move a success, setting a new standard for the New Zealand-based club-s Australian recruits at the same time. Previous Hyundai A-League and National Soccer League clubs based in New Zealand had tended to rely on unproven local talent, overseas veterans or players struggling to cement spots at other clubs.
Durante broke new ground by joining the Phoenix fresh from winning a grand final and at the top of his career.
“Winning the championship with the Jets was a great time but it felt like it was time to move on,” the experienced defender said. “The Phoenix were very positive toward me and really wanted me onboard. I thought they were a team that really wanted to go places. They had a good attacking team but one of the worst defensive records in the league (in 2007/08) and I thought I could do something to rectify that.
“The club was also signing Leo Bertos and Jon McKain and the time, so it was clear to me that the club was committed to going in the right direction.”
Handed the captain-s armband in his first season with the club, the man known as “Dura” to his teammates and Phoenix fans has played a pivotal role in the club-s success.
He played every minute of every game last season as the Phoenix went within one match of the grand final, something Durante himself jokes was a “Dura-cell” achievement.
Although he won the championship flag and the Joe Marston medal for his grand final heroics with the Jets, Durante still credits the Phoenix-s 2009/10 Finals Series wins against Perth Glory and his old team Newcastle at Westpac Stadium in Wellington as his fondest memories.
“This is a really special club, that-s what makes the difference. We-ve got great players, a great coaching staff and great fans in a great city. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have come here and I-m glad to have proven a lot of the naysayers wrong.”
Durante played 40 Hyundai A-League matches for the Jets and has played 59 for the Phoenix. He will reach his century against the Mariners at Westpac Stadium on Saturday night.
“It-ll be a special one and a milestone that I-m proud of. Now I-ll look to push on and reach 200.”