JETS coach Gary van Egmond says Young Socceroos captain Ben Kantarovski is still struggling with the effects of knee surgery a year ago.
The 19-year-old was the A-League’s youngest-ever player when he made his debut as a 16-year-old in 2008 and has been a mainstay of Australian junior representative teams for four years.
In 2009 he spent a week training with Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich amid talk of a likely move to Europe when he turned 18, although in November 2010 he signed a three-year contract extension keeping him at the Jets until the end of 2013.
He has spent much of this season on the bench and has struggled recently when given a chance in midfield.
Van Egmond said Kantarovski, who captained the Young Socceroos at the FIFA under-20 World Cup in Colombia in July, had had to deal with the death of two grandparents in the past month and was yet to return to full fitness after a knee reconstruction a year ago.
‘‘It’s been a tough one for him. Just recently he’s had both grandparents pass away, so that’s not easy for him to deal with, and luckily he’s got such a great family and infrastructure around him that helps,’’ van Egmond said of the Newcastle product.
‘‘His preparation has been very interrupted ... being out for so long with his knee injury, and he’s had little niggles here and there, and he probably went to the under20s when he was underdone and it probably wasn’t the best thing for him to do.
‘‘His training and his preparation have been fairly interrupted for this season, so it’s probably dented his confidence as well.
‘‘We know that he has the ability, but it’s a matter of him getting some consistency of training. We’ll see the better of Kanta a little bit down the track.’’
Van Egmond is tossing up between Kantarovski and Labinot Haliti for a start in the midfield against Perth at Ausgrid Stadium today.
Haliti would offer an attacking spark behind a front three spearheaded by Englishman Michael Bridges, van Egmond said, but Kantarovski would provide more defensive security.
The coach confirmed captain Jobe Wheelhouse would miss the game due to an infected foot and was no certainty to return against Gold Coast at home on Wednesday.
Wheelhouse was hospitalised this week to have intravenous antibiotics.
‘‘He hasn’t been able to respond to the medicine for the inflammation that he’s got in his foot so he won’t be a starter for tomorrow,’’ van Egmond said after training at Ausgrid Stadium yesterday.
‘‘He got admitted to hospital and it’s clearing up, but it’s a lot slower than what we first thought.’’
Van Egmond said Brazilian defender Tiago, who led the Jets in their 5-2 loss in Wellington last week when Wheelhouse was serving a one-game suspension, would again wear the captain’s armband.
‘‘His leadership, he coaches on the field by his actions, the way he conducts himself around the training field and the dressing room, the respect that the players have for him, it’s a pretty easy choice,’’ he said of 30-year-old Tiago.
Tiago will be joined in the defensive line by Taylor Regan, who replaces Nikolai Topor-Stanley.
‘‘Taylor will play, and it’s probably long overdue for him,’’ van Egmond said.
‘‘He’s been very patient, and probably Nikolai on his own admission didn’t have one of his better games against Wellington.’’
Van Egmond said Ben Kennedy would start in goal despite pressure from Matt Nash, and Bridges would start up front in a 4-3-3 formation.
‘‘We’ve got a plan to help Bridgey out, because we know he’s not going to press completely and utterly high every time,’’ he said.