What will Gael Sandoval bring to the Wellington Phoenix?
Mexican Gael Sandoval is the newest summer signing in the A-League Men.
He will look to add a creative spark in a struggling Wellington Phoenix attack that desperately needs it.
The 26-year-old midfielder spoke to former Phoenix star Ulises Dávila before joining the club.
His conversation with his compatriot opened up a willingness to move to Australia.
Sandoval only played his football in Mexico up until now, featuring for various clubs in the Liga MX. (ESPN)
Sandoval traditionally occupies a central midfield role but can also play out wide.
Phoenix fans have lamented the lack of a quality creative midfielder after losing the talented Dávila to Macarthur.
Once he suits up for Wellington, expect Sandoval to occupy both a central role and frequently find himself in wider positions, acting as a winger.
The Mexican joins from Guadalajara, one of Mexico's biggest clubs, and is also formerly of Liga MX sides Juárez, Santos Laguna, and Mazatlán FC.
At Santos Laguna, the attacker only scored two goals for the club in 49 games.
Despite his lack of goals, his attacking and creative abilities, similar to that of Dávila, have Wellington fans excited.
Sandoval's heat map from his time at Liga MX side Mazatlán FC last season. (Sofascore)
Back-track five seasons ago, and Sandoval's breakout at Santos in the second half of the 2016-17 season had put him on the radar of former Mexican national team head coach Juan Carlos Osorio.
Sandoval finished the 2017 Clausura stage as the Mexican with the most assists, notching up five in what was described as an excellent season for the youngster.
Earlier in his career, whilst still in his fledgling years at Santos, Sandoval attracted interest from European clubs.
AS Roma was the club most interested in poaching Sandoval, and he went to Italy for a trial period.
But a deal between the two sides never came to fruition, and the youngster had to wait for his big break and continue in the Liga MX.
"All I knew was that I was at an important Serie A club, but I had no knowledge of the magnitude of being there. I grew, started to mature in certain aspects," he told ESPN in 2017.
"Now that I'm older, I realize that I had an incredible opportunity, which I want right now. I want to go back to Roma or any other club. My experience in Italy left me that - the desire to return."
Sandoval during his time with Guadalajara. (Zimbo)
Sandoval would join fellow Liga MX side Guadalajara in November 2017, though, instead of moving abroad.
After brief spells on loan from Guadalajara at Juárez and a return to Santos, Sandoval joined the newly formed club Mazatlán FC on loan in December 2020.
This move saw Sandoval get the opportunity to showcase his real quality as an attacking playmaker in the Mexican top flight.
He played 14 games, made the Liga MX Team of the Week twice, and scored three goals for Mazatlán before returning to Guadalajara.
His three goals came at a rate of one every 260 minutes, but this should not worry Nix fans.
Sandoval's creativity and ability to find space, particularly in wide areas, will cause problems in the A-League Men.
The wide areas are where he likes to harm the opposition, and it could potentially help the Nix score more goals this season.
So far, they have only netted four goals in six matches, and Wellington has scored the equal second-least goals across the league.
Sandoval should help Talay's side take more control of games because of his ability to make the right decisions on the ball.
Meanwhile, his creative flair will hopefully offer more clear-cut openings for David Ball, Ben Waine, and Jaushua Sotirio.
During his time at Mazatlán, Sandoval had a passing accuracy of 91% in the opposition half.
Overall, his passing was very efficient during that stint, with 12.7 accurate passes per game and a total of 1.6 key passes per game.
Sandoval was able to draw fouls frequently, too, with an average of 1.1 fouls committed on him across the matches he featured in for Mazatlán.
Sandoval joins the Phoenix on loan until the end of the season from Guadalajara. (Wellington Phoenix FC)
The 26-year-old offers something different that Wellington has missed since Dávila departed, which is that creative flair in their attack.
Talay's side desperately needs an attacking playmaker.
The manager would also greatly appreciate a few goals from his new signing.
Wellington has only had two players record an assist from their four goals, whilst their attackers are missing an average of 0.7 big chances per game.
Talay doesn't need a saviour just yet.
But he will surely hope Sandoval can add the much-needed quality to help Wellington re-launch their 2021/22 A-League Men campaign.