Newcastle bank on more fresh legs

NEWCASTLE Jets coach Gary van Egmond is assembling what will be one of the youngest squads in the A-League next season.

Gold Coast teenager Josh Brillante agreed yesterday to terms for a two-year deal, continuing van Egmond’s youth policy.

The 19-year-old midfielder’s signing follows that of Craig Goodwin, 19, and Scott Neville, 23, on Monday.

James Brown, 23, Adam Taggart, 19, and Mark Birighitti, 21, are the Jets’ other recruits.

Newcastle, who missed the finals for a second straight year, had also been in talks with fellow Gold Coast teenager Ben Halloran, but he is expected to join league champions Brisbane Roar.

Of the 18 players on the Jets roster, 30-year-olds Tiago and Ryan Griffiths are the only ones older than 27.

Veteran Englishman Michael Bridges, 33, has been told he will be offered a new deal, but Byun Sung-hwan, 32, Matt Nash, 31, Kasey Wehrman, 34, and Francis Jeffers, 31, have been released.

The Jets have a maximum five places, including one for Bridges, to fill, and the Herald believes they have reopened talks with Ivory Coast international Franck Manga Guela.

The 25-year-old midfielder, who was capped three times by Ivory Coast in 2007, is in France trying to regain fitness after missing more than a year due to a knee injury.

Sydney FC have also held talks with the livewire, who played alongside Brisbane Roar striker Besart Berisha and Adelaide United midfielder Dario Vidosic at German lower-league side Arminia Bielefeld three years ago.

Brillante, a member of the Australian under-20 squad, made 14 senior appearances for Gold Coast, including in a 1-all draw with the Jets at Hunter Stadium last season, and was part of their youth team that won back-to-back championships.

‘‘Josh is a member of the under 20s national team and has proven himself at A-League level with Gold Coast last season,” van Egmond said in a statement.

“He can play as a right back or central midfielder and has a great attitude.

‘‘Again, he is definitely one for the future.’’

Brillante’s career had been in limbo since Football Federation Australia took the licence from Gold Coast United owner Clive Palmer.

The Bundaberg product had been training with Brisbane Roar to stay fit before the next Young Socceroos camp in June and was relieved to have his future settled.

‘‘I have been talking with the Jets for a while so it was good to have it finalised,’’ Brillante told the Herald yesterday.

‘‘I’m really looking forward to getting down there. They have some good young players, a good coach and I really like the style they play.

‘‘I had a good chat to [former Gold Coast teammate] James Brown about it.

‘‘He is a switched-on kid and gave me a good vibe.’’

Brillante was unsure where van Egmond would play him.

AAP reports: Newly re-signed Sydney FC goalkeeping coach Zeljko Kalac has done his best to persuade Tony Popovic to coach the Sky Blues next season but says his great mate remains torn over his future.

Crystal Palace assistant Popovic is a man in demand and has met with officials from the Sky Blues and the new western Sydney franchise in recent days.

Popovic and Kalac were teammates for Sydney United and the Socceroos and the pair met over lunch on Thursday as Popovic sought the advice of his close friend.

Kalac re-signed yesterday as Sydney’s goalkeeping coach for another season.

He said he ‘‘tried my best’’ to talk up a return to the club for Popovic, a former Sky Blues player and assistant coach.

But he predicted sleepless nights for Popovic over the weekend before an expected decision on Monday.

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