‘Nix boss was asked about three stars & their future plans. This is what he said: ‘It’s a no-brainer’

Hear from Wellington Phoenix boss Giancarlo Italiano ahead of their top-of-the-table clash against Melbourne Victory on Friday.

Wellington Phoenix head coach Giancarlo Italiano said it is “no-brainer” to keep Kosta Barbarouses as the Isuzu UTE A-League high-flyers try to re-sign the in-form star, while talisman Oskar Zawada could be on the way out.

Barbarouses has starred in the absence of injured teammate Zawada, turning back the clock to score in five consecutive matches – equalling a club record shared by the latter and Tomer Hemed.

The 33-year-old New Zealand international is out of contract at the end of the season in June and Italiano was asked about the club’s attempts to retain Barbarouses.

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“I’ve had those conversations and for me he is one of the most valuable players in the team. So for me, it’s a no-brainer,” Italiano told reporters ahead of Friday night’s top-of-the-table blockbuster against Melbourne Victory.

A four-time Isuzu UTE A-League champion, Barbarouses has scored eight goals in 12 appearances this season.

He has been directly involved in 10 of the Phoenix’s last 11 goals in the league (eight goals, two assists).

“With all clubs and the salary cap has its restrictions,” Italiano said. “Unfortunately players are like assets, the more they pay you back in dividend, the more the stock is worth.

“I’m hoping to sign him sooner rather than later cause I could be broke for next season.”

While Barbarouses appears likely to stay beyond 2023-24, Polish star Zawada appears likely to leave Wellington.

Zawada scored 15 goals in 26 matches in his first season with the Phoenix and he has backed that up with four in six this term, though he has been hampered by injury.

The former Wolfsburg and FC Twente forward is out of contract at the end of the season and there continues to be interest in the 27-year-old.

“For me, there is always interest in Oskar. He is going to come to the end of his contract at the end of the season,” said Italiano.”

“Most clubs that are in this cycle now are all looking for nines, usually teams that aren’t scoring. So he’d be up there on that list, whether it’s here in the A-League or in Asia, even in Europe.

“There might be interest, but we haven’t received an offer.”

Pressed on Zawada and potentially re-signing him, Italiano added: “Again it comes down to budget. It really comes down to how much money I have available for next season.

“It’s an ongoing situation. I also have to assess whether the player wants to be here at the end of the season. That’s a discussion that will be between him and the club over the next couple of weeks.

“But I feel as though he’s wanting to move overseas and get an opportunity in a league that will test him. Good strikers are always in demand.”

Asked whether he would prefer to keep Barbarouses over Zawada, Italiano replied: “I’d want to keep Kosta because I feel as though he wants to be here. His family are here. I think it’s a bit of a no-brainer.

“Whereas Oskar, there’s been a lot of interest and I feel as though if he gets the right offer to go overseas, he will take it.”

Another import was discussed – Bulgarian attacker Bozhidar Kraev, who is also out of contract at season’s end.

The 26-year-old arrived last season but he has taken his game to a new level under Italiano.

After scoring seven goals in 26 games last term, he has four in 12.

“My impression with BK, as much as he wants to stay and is settled here, I think he is good enough to go back overseas and test those waters,” said Italiano.

“But we have to speak to him on a one-on-one basis and see what he wants to do. I think he is good enough to go back to Europe and make a play in a really good league.

“But if he wants to stay, I’ll definitely try to keep him.”