Wellington Phoenix start rebuild with ‘no-brainer’ signing: ‘He reminds me of Cam Devlin’

Barely 24 hours after announcing eight departures, Wellington Phoenix have made their first signing of the off-season.

New Wellington Phoenix coach Giancarlo Italiano has made his first signing of the off-season, securing the services of ball-winning midfielder Mohamed Al-Taay on a two-year deal.

Al-Taay was released by the Newcastle Jets after making 30 appearances in all competitions over two seasons. The 22-year-old also spent time in the Western Sydney Wanderers academy, winning the club’s Youth Player of the Year award in 2020.

After losing Clayton Lewis to Macarthur and Steven Ugarkovic, Italiano got to work quickly to fill part of the gap left by the outgoing midfield duo.

“A big strength of Mo’s is he wins a lot of ball in midfield,” Italiano said.

“We need aggressive sixes that will win a lot of ball and that’s irrespective of what formation we’re playing.

“He’s also a great kid and he’s a top professional. He’s a hard trainer, he always listens and takes information on board, and he’s always looking to get better.

“We can harness those skills and really support the way we play.”

Italiano is confident the 22-year-old can make a similar impact to that of Socceroos midfielder Cameron Devlin – who rose to prominence at Wellington prior to joining Scottish side Hearts.

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“It was a no brainer signing Mo because he’s got the same energy that Cam Devlin brought to the team a couple of years ago,” Italiano said.

“He’s got the same attributes. Cammy won a lot of ball in the midfield, and he reminds me of Cammy quite a bit.”

Al-Taay said it’s not the first time he’s heard that comparison: “A couple of the Jets boys that were at Wellington made that comparison too.

“I take it as a compliment as Cammy’s a very good player. I do think we have similar attributes in the way that we play.

“I bring a lot of energy in the middle of the park. I like to get the best out of my teammates. I’m a ball winner, I cover a lot of space and I do all the dirty work for my defenders behind me.”

He also believes the decision to cross the ditch was an easy one, having worked under Italiano at Blacktown City, where the new Nix boss was the club’s head of football.


“When I got the call and found out Chiefy was the coach in Wellington I didn’t hesitate to make the move,” he said.

“I know him and he’s a very good person. He’s very ambitious and he’s got big plans.

“I’m at the point in my career where I’m hungry for more. I’ve built a good foundation at Newcastle and I’m ready for that next step at Wellington.

“I’m focused on playing under Chiefy, learning a lot and taking my game to the next level. I’m going to be working hard every day and whenever I’m on the pitch I’ll give 110%.”

Wellington finished sixth on the table and bowed out in the first week of finals against Adelaide United last Friday night.