Newcastle Jets: Merrick locks in Venezuelan international for marquee spot | video

HERE'S RONNY: Venezuelan international Ronald Vargas has signed a one-year deal with the Newcastle Jets.
HERE'S RONNY: Venezuelan international Ronald Vargas has signed a one-year deal with the Newcastle Jets.

JETS coach Ernie Merrick has finally got his man.

Venezuelan international Ronald Vargas has signed a one-year deal with the Jets and will arrive in Newcastle on Sunday.

The 30-year-old attacking midfielder has spent the past two seasons at Greek club AEK Athens, where he made 50 appearances in all competitions, scoring 14 goals.

The last of his 22 international caps for Venezuela was at the 2015 Copa America’s.

The Jets beat two Belgian clubs for the classy attacker’s signature. Vargas, pending a medical, will be the club’s first marquee player since former England and Liverpool striker Emile Heskey left at the end of the 2014 season.

“We’ve said all along that we would wait for the right player and that has paid dividends for us,” Merrick said. 

Merrick, who recruited South American success stories Fred and Carlos Hernandez to the A-League when he was coach of Melbourne Victory, said Vargas was the “perfect fit” for his squad.

“He’s an exciting, international player with experience in some of the finest leagues in the world and his inclusion goes a long way to completing our squad,” Merrick said. “We’ve now got a player who I feel, can take the game by the scruff of the neck with his skill at the set piece and in general play. His quality of passing through to the strikers and his composure on the ball and ability to find a player … it is top notch. I’m looking forward to seeing how he can combine with the likes of Dimi Petratos, Roy O’Donovan and Andrew Nabbout to create goal-scoring opportunities.”

Vargas’ last games for AEK was a 1-0 loss to Panionis in a play-off on May 18.

He knocked back a contract extension at the Greek power house and had been training with Belgian club Royal Antwerp FC and working with a personal trainer.

Vargas and his Belgian wife departed Brussels on Friday night.

The Jets open their A-League campaign against arch rivals Central Coast Mariners at Gosford on October 7, leaving the attacking midfielder just under three weeks to get up to speed.

Before joining AEK, Vargas had been in talks with Western Sydney Wanderers. The Jets looked at a number of players before opting for Vargas. 

“To attract a player of Ronald’s calibre tops off the many positive things we’ve seen both on and off the pitch during pre-season,” Jets chief executive Lawrie McKinna said. “We’ve taken great strides since Ernie’s appointment earlier this year, and I think fans are beginning to see the rewards of the hard work that’s been put in across the club. [Football operations manager] Joel Griffiths has been an integral part of making this deal possible, his professionalism, persistence and hard work has been they key in getting this deal over the line. Fans can look forward to seeing an attacker, a goal-scorer and an all round quality footballer once the A-League kicks off in early October.”

Vargas made his international debut for Venezuela in a 1–0 win over Haití in February 2008. He scored his first goal for his country in a famous 2-0 win against Brazil at the Gillete Stadium in June the same year.

After coming through the youth system at Caracas, he made his first team debut in 2006. He signed a four-year deal with Club Brugge, earning his club a then record  $2.23 million transfer fee.

Vargas played 71 games, scoring 22 goals, for Brugge. He tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and was sidelined for six months in early 2011. He joined Anderlecht in June 2011 for a $3.72 million fee and scored four goals in 25 appearances, before moving to Turkish club Baliskesirspor.

Vargas’ addition leaves the Jets with one visa spot available on the roster which has been earmarked for a Chinese player.