A-League: Star striker Gary Hooper returns to Wellington Phoenix

Wellington Phoenix have welcomed striker Gary Hooper back to the Kiwi A-League club on a two-year contract through the 2022/23 season.

The Englishman last played for the Phoenix in their 2019/20 campaign, scoring eight goals across 21 appearances and playing a key role in their historic third-place finish.

Hooper relocated to India for a stint with the Indian Super League's Kerala Blasters, but will return to the capital, where coach Ufuk Talay believes he'll add a valuable presence in front of goal, as well as some toughness to the squad.

"[Hooper] was great for us last time he was here," Talay says. "He's an imposing and influential player, and a solid option for us up front with his goal-scoring ability.

"Last time, he joined us after the season had started, so the prospect of having him here for both the pre-season and the next two full seasons is an exciting one."

The highly experienced 33-year-old is eager to get back to New Zealand and reunite with his former teammates.

“I missed the players and the bond we had together in that season when we came third," says Hooper. "It was unlucky that I got injured before the elimination final game.

“But it was the bond we had that I remember, the way we played, and the way the manager [Ufuk Talay] set us up his system and him just letting us play football.

"I'm really happy to be fair. Signing a two-year deal and being back with the same staff, same manager and a lot of the same players, and my family. I really like living in Wellington as well." 

Hooper aims to rejoin the squad in time for the beginning of pre-season in July, after completing his quarantine, allowing plenty of time to acclimatise.

"It's always nice getting a full pre-season under your belt and starting a new season as a full year," he notes. 

"I came late last time and it took me a while to get used to everything, the set-up, the system especially."

Hooper's addition mitigates the loss of captain Ulises Davila, as well as the rumoured departure of the club's top goalscorer Tomer Hemed.