Melbourne City have swooped to sign goalkeeper Mark Birighitti as a replacement for departed shot-stopper Dean Bouzanis.
Birighitti has been in Europe for the past three years. Initially he spent time in Italy with Varese, on loan from his then A-League club Newcastle Jets, then he was on the books of then Premier League club Swansea City before spending a year at Dutch team NAC Breda.
City are hoping that Birighitti will challenge incumbent Eugene Galekovic, with the two battling to become Warren Joyce's No.1. The pair worked together at Adelaide United a decade ago when Galekovic was the established No.1 and the then teenage Birighitti was his understudy.
Birighitti played 77 times for the Jets, but his appearances during his time in Europe have been limited. He played four times for Varese in Italy's Serie B, did not feature in the first team during his year at Swansea, and turned out 17 times for Eredivisie team NAC.
He has signed a three-year deal to keep him in Melbourne until 2021
The Perth-born goalkeeper has represented Australia 38 times at under-17, under-20 and under-23 levels, making his sole senior appearance in the East Asian Cup tournament under the Socceroos' then coach Holger Osieck in 2013.
Joyce was delighted to have signed a goalkeeper who should now, at 27, be reaching the peak of his powers.
“Mark is one of Australia’s brightest goalkeeping talents and we think he’s got a lot to give at this stage of his career” said Joyce.
“He communicates well on the field, is a solid shot-stopper and good with his feet. He’s also shown he’s adaptable to different playing styles throughout his career in Australia and Europe.”
Birighitti knows he will have a battle on his hands to displace former Socceroo and A-League goalkeeper of the year Galekovic, but he is up for the challenge.
“I’m pleased to be returning to Australia and to join a club with genuine title aspirations and a group with talent like Melbourne City is very exciting,” said Birighitti.
“I’ve worked hard over the past couple of seasons and learnt a lot ,which I hope to put to good use this season and challenge for a regular place in the team.''
''It was a perfect fit for me. City are an ambitious club and will be fighting for the title this year.
''It was a great experience in my time overseas. Moving from Australia to the Premier League was a fantastic jump and I took so much from that. I spent one and a half years in Holland tryng to further my career, playing at a good level as well.''
With Birighitti and Galeovic in tandem City look to have a strong and experienced goalkeeping line-up now Bouzanis has gone on a one-year loan deal to PEC Zwolle. Youth team product James Delianov is the third goalkeeping option at Bundoora.
Joyce has rung the changes at City in the off season, with players like Frenchman Florin Berenguer, young Australians Riley McGree and Lachlan Wales, experienced midfielders Rostyn Griffith and Anthony Caceres joining Scotsman Michael O’Halloran at the club.
City have been much more low key that cross-city rivals Melbourne Victory, who have brought in Japanese legend Keisuke Honda and Swedish international Ola Toivonen as well as former Bundesliga defender Georg Neidermeier and Spaniard Raul Baena. Victory won the title last season and are determined to not just defend their crown but also make an impression in the Asian Champions League.
City are expected to sign a marquee player, although it is unlikely to be a huge name.
Having been bitten by the Tim Cahill experience, City have opted to be more low key and concentrate on developing younger players that they can feed through the City Football Group's global system if they are good enough - such as teenage winger Daniel Arzani, who made a huge impression for the Socceroos at the World Cup before being signed by the group's flagship club, Manchester City. He is now on loan at Celtic.
City and Victory will meet in the opening game of the season on October 20.
Michael Lynch, The Age's expert on soccer, has had extensive experience of high level journalism in the UK and Australia. Michael has covered the Socceroos through Asia, Europe and South America in their past three World Cup campaigns. He has also reported on Grands Prix and top class motor sport from Asia and Europe. He has won several national media awards for both sports and industry journalism.