Newcastle Jets marquee target excites coach Ernie Merrick | photos

Coach Ernie Merrick is confident the Jets will sign a marquee player with the quality to make a difference to the club’s attacking output in the A-League.

The Jets are still talking to three South Americans, including AEK Athens winger Patito Rodriguez and a former Venezuelan international attacking midfielder also playing in Europe.

Merrick, who brought South American success stories Fred and Carlos Hernandez to the A-League when he was coach of Melbourne Victory, told the Herald before training on Wednesday that he would be “very, very happy” if the club signed the player he had identified.

“There’s no doubt that it’s going to be a marquee player and a high-quality player,” he said. “It gives us quality in that area, which is the most exciting area of football, in the front third. 

“Someone that’s a more mature player, that doesn’t just have one special thing. Someone that can be a good all-rounder, is experienced. If he’s got international experience, that’s even better.

“Free kicks, corner kicks, knowing when to play through-balls. We’ve done a lot of research to make sure we get the right player.”

It is understood owner Martin Lee is poised to spend about $750,000 on the player, which would make him one of the best-paid stars in the club’s history.

Former owner Nathan Tinkler forked out similar money on Emily Heskey in 2012 and would have paid $850,000 per season on Jason Culina had the Socceroo recovered from a knee injury.

An anonymous report on goal.com on Wednesday night described “mayhem in the Hunter Valley” after Merrick “personally withdrew” a contract offer to Rodriguez.

The report said the Argentine’s agent believed his client had secured an in-principle agreement with the Jets after securing a release from his AEK contract.

Merrick said he did not deal with agents, and football operations manager Joel Griffiths and chief executive Lawrie McKinna had been clear that the club had a list of players it was working through.   

“When you deal with agents and clubs, things can fall over at the last moment for a range of reasons.

“I’ve never changed my mind. I’ve never had anything to do with dealing with any of them, and everyone’s been clear that it was a shortlist that we would select from.

“It’s always rich when the agents start saying these things.

“I’m just doing the best thing I can for the club.”

Merrick said his side and the club’s supporters would benefit from an increasingly stable environment off the field.

“I met Martin Lee in Shenzhen and was very impressed with him and his whole approach. I’m not surprised he’s put in the required financial amounts to get success.

“I understand that Newcastle fans have had a lot of false promises in the past, but we’ve now got a lot of stability up top from the owner, financial support, and a CEO who knows the business of running a football club, and Joel, an ex-player. I just see so many positives.

“It doesn’t mean we’re going to go out and win every game, but it means we’re going to be a lot more competitive.”