By Craig MacKenzie
Peninsula Strikers have pulled off the transfer coup of the season by clinching the signature of Scottish star Ryan Stevenson.
The 32-year-old attacking midfielder or striker has played over 400 games as a professional in Scotland and England and will fly to Melbourne as soon as his visa and international clearance are arranged.
The Centenary Park outfit is hopeful that Stevenson will arrive this week and be the first of a number of clutch signings it hopes to make in the next fortnight.
Among them is former Bentleigh Greens midfielder Emmanuel Brima, 18, who has been training with Strikers after recently returning from a 12-month involvement with AC Milan’s youth system.
English central defender or right back Michael Nugent is expected to train with Strikers this week and former Langwarrin midfielder and current Cilfton Hill player Sam Scott is firmly on Strikers’ radar.
The club is in talks with two other local players but it may take another couple of weeks before they reach a decision.
The local game has rarely seen such an influx of visa players and Strikers have outdone every other club in the area with the capture of Stevenson.
The stunning signing may not have come about had Strikers’ head coach and former Glasgow Rangers striker Craig Lewis not been such an avid reader of the online version of Scotland’s national daily tabloid the Daily Record.
“I came across Ryan’s story last month when he retired from professional football and a couple of weeks later I was talking to an ex-teammate, Rab MacKenzie, who was over on work,” said Lewis.
“I asked Rab if he knew of any junior league players back home who might be interested in coming over and he mentioned Ryan.
“He said he didn’t know Ryan that well but if we could get someone like that it would completely blow everyone away.
“I searched out Ryan on Facebook and sent him a message asking if he’d be interested in coming to Australia for the rest of the season for a change of environment away from the hounding of the press and he got straight back and said he’d be over on the first available plane!
“It’s evolved extremely quickly and we’ve spoken to him every day since.
“To be honest I was chancing my arm but the response Ryan gave us meant we had to act quickly and get this done.
“It will change the face of the game on the peninsula that’s for sure especially if we can start attracting players of his calibre.
“He was really keen from the outset and told me that he’s got a mate who came over a couple of years back and told him that it was the best move he’d ever made and that he should get over here the first chance he got.”
Stevenson is from the former mining village of Drongan in Ayrshire and began his professional career as a youth player with English giant Chelsea.
He returned to Scotland in 2002 and joined St Johnstone before switching to Ayr United, initially on loan before making the move permanent in 2007.
In 2010 Stevenson started the first of two spells at Hearts, joined English outfit Ipswich Town in 2012 then transferred back to Hearts that same year.
Since then he has had stints with Partick Thistle, Ayr United, Dumbarton and Raith Rovers and ended his professional career last month when he signed for Troon in the West of Scotland Super League Premier Division.
Stevenson’s professional career highlights include scoring both goals in Hearts’ 3-2 loss to St Mirren in the 2013 Scottish League Cup Final, scoring for Hearts in wins over Glasgow giants Rangers and Celtic and Edinburgh rival Hibs and being called up to the Scotland squad in 2011 for a friendly against Cyprus.
The thought of Stevenson linking with ace striker Aziz Bayeh is a mouth-watering prospect for Strikers’ fans and if the club is successful with its other targets it will have a formidable line-up.
“We know what we want to achieve this season and we’ve got off to a terrible start and need to strengthen,” said Lewis.
“We want to turn our season around and I’m confident that we can.”
Strikers lost their third straight game of the State 2 South-East season when they went down 6-3 away to Doncaster Rovers last Friday night with four individual errors leading to Rovers’ goals and emphasising the need to add to the squad.
Stevenson will be the club’s fourth import for 2017 following in the footsteps of English midfielder Danny Brooks, Italian midfielder Leandro Parrella and Swiss central defender Raphael Stulz.
(Photo from Wikipedia commons)