6 Jun 2024

Who will replace Alex Paulsen at the Phoenix?

11:22 am on 6 June 2024
Alex Paulsen of Wellington Phoenix

Alex Paulsen of Wellington Phoenix Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Analysis - Wellington Phoenix fans knew they would one day say goodbye to goalkeeper Alex Paulsen but they probably didn't realise it would be coming around so soon.

The 21-year-old is set to join English Premier League side AFC Bournemouth in a club-record sale. While inevitable, this feels far too soon, especially considering his stellar performances in the 2023-24 season.

So how does head coach Giancarlo Italiano go about replacing the league's best stopper? Here are five potential options.

Nik Tzanev - AFC Wimbledon

Goalkeeper Nik Tzanev of New Zealand.

Goalkeeper Nik Tzanev of New Zealand. Photo: Christian Hofer / www.photosport.nz

Replacing Paulsen with a fellow Kiwi would be an ideal scenario, and it's an option they can seriously consider given Tzanev's employment position.

The two-cap All White has been released by English League Two outfit AFC Wimbledon after struggling for regular football in the 2023-24 campaign.

Tzanev's football upbringing was entirely through the UK academy system, having left New Zealand at just nine years old. It makes him an astute and assured goalkeeper who, at 195cm tall, cuts an imposing figure.

Available for nothing, a Kiwi, originally (albeit very briefly) from Wellington - this seems like a home run of a signing.

Adam Pavlesic - Sydney FC

Much like Paulsen had to bide his time at the Phoenix before getting his big break ahead of Oli Sail, the same can be said for Andrew Redmayne's young understudy at Sydney FC. The difference here, however, is that Pavlesic never got that break.

The 21-year-old's contract is up in the off-season and he will surely be looking for a place to play regular football. To add another level to this, Pavlesic was part of the Sydney FC FYL team coached by Italiano in 2018/19, making him a known entity to the Phoenix boss. If Chiefy liked what he saw six years ago then Pavlesic might be getting a phone call.

Jack Duncan - Wellington Phoenix

Goalkeeper Nik Tzanev of New Zealand.

Goalkeeper Nik Tzanev of New Zealand. Photo: Christian Hofer / www.photosport.nz

It's easy to forget that the Phoenix already have a very accomplished A-League stopper on their books. While his final season with the Newcastle Jets may have been littered with errors, Duncan does have more than 100 A-League appearances under his belt.

At the time of writing, his contract is also up in the off-season, a situation the Phoenix recently said was a "work in progress". With Paulsen's imminent departure, keeping hold of Duncan seems the sensible course of action - regardless of any other goalkeeping recruitment.

Alby Kelly-Heald - Wellington Phoenix

Italiano has shown no fear when it comes to giving young talents a go since taking charge of the Phoenix - so maybe they will promote from within again.

Kelly-Heald featured on the bench for two A-League games last season, and the 19-year-old will be hoping he can follow in Paulsen's footsteps and carve out a place in the first-team sooner rather than later.

Failing that, the 'Nix also have the excellent Matthew Foord on their books, after the 18-year-old New Zealand youth star made the switch from Cashmere Technical in February.

It would be a big ask for players this young, and for every Alex Paulsen there is an equal or more amount of Keegan Smiths out there. Time will tell if Italiano is looking to go with the kids between the posts again.

An import

Phoenix keeper Tony Warner.

Phoenix keeper Tony Warner. Photo: Dave Lintott/Photosport

Using a visa opening on a goalkeeper is something of a rarity in the A-League. With all due respect to the goalkeeper's union, it is seen as a waste of a slot. Those precious foreign player voids are often filled with defensive lynchpins, creative sparks or ruthless finishers. In the history of the A-League men, only seven non-Australian or New Zealand stoppers have graced the field of play. However, two of those - Tony Warner and Filip Kurto - did so in Wellington, showing how the Phoenix are always ready to buck the trend.

There is an exhaustive list of available or soon-to-be available free agent goalkeepers to pick from. While the likes of David De Gea or Keylor Navas may be the thing of feverish folly others are much more attainable. Listing potentials seems erroneous, considering the length of any potential shortlist, but a foreign talent might be needed to fill Paulsen's gloves.