FORMER Wellington Phoenix midfielder Alex Smith is hoping to reignite his A-League career after a disappointing season with the wooden spooners across the ditch.
Smith was training with Aussie Rules outfit Benalla Saints to maintain his fitness before signing with the Victorian Premier League’s Oakleigh Cannons this week.
The move sees the 27-year-old American reuniting with his one-time nemesis and ex-Gold Coast United coach, Miron Bleiberg.
The two suffered a public falling out when Smith was controversially dumped for another visa player, Maceo Rigters, before he had even played a competitive match for the now defunct Queensland club.
But Smith, who is the process of acquiring Australian citizenship, told au.fourfourtwo.com he had long since buried the hatchet with the colourful Bleiberg.
“A lot of people might find it hard that I want to go and work with him again after everything that happened,” he told au.fourfourtwo.com.
“But look I don’t think what happened at Gold Coast was his fault and he was always honest with me and I respect that.
“While I was pretty angry with him at the time, it certainly didn’t last and we’ve been having phone conversations ever since.”
If all goes to plan, Smith will have plenty of opportunity to display his attacking instincts, used to such lethal effect during his days with Sydney Olympic, but largely stifled in a defensive role at Phoenix where he started as an injury replacement for striker Mirjan Pavlovic in 2011.
Oakleigh general manager Aki Ionnas has certainly worked hard to snatch the underrated mid from the clutches of other state league clubs but may not have him for too long.
Ante Alilovic, Smith’s agent, has been fielding inquiries from several A-League outfits with his client making no secret of his desire to return to the topflight.
That would be the icing on the cake for the first time father whose Aussie wife Kristen gave birth to their son, Quinn, last month.
The good news comes on the back of a tough season for the former FC Dallas player who struggled for game time and was critical of the abrupt mid-season style change that coincided with Phoenix’s slide down the ladder.
“I started the first 11 games and we weren’t doing good but we weren’t bottom of the league – we were sitting about fifth or sixth,” Smith said.
“And then I missed out on one game and then just couldn’t seem to get back in no matter what I happened.
“But that’s football – you’ve got to live with these things. Put your head down and work hard and see what happens.”
Smith has nothing but praise for the Phoenix fans and players but says he won’t miss the near toxic media environment created by a hyper-critical New Zealand media.
“It just got to the point where every single piece that came out about us was negative and it takes its toll on players in the end, affects their confidence,” he said.
“People might say, well don’t read it, but you can’t help but see some of the stuff that people write. Even when we finished fourth the previous year a lot of the stuff was still negative.
“I’m not going to say you’ve got to pump us up and say how good we are all the time but a bit of balance is really needed, especially in a place like New Zealand where there is say two major papers and we were the only professional soccer team in the country.”
Smith who started the charity Shoe Beginnings in New Zealand – where players donated used boots to underprivileged schools – says he hopes new coach Ernie Merrick can turns things around for the Wellington club.
In the meantime he’s taking nothing for granted in his fight for another A-League contract.
“Being part of professional sports team is something you’ve got to cherish every minute of,” he said. “You’ve got to enjoy it while you can because you never know when it’s going to end.”