By Peter Desira
(Herald Sun, Wednesday 4 October 2000)
Melbourne Knights have abandoned an overseas hunt and switched their attention to two interstate stars to complete their squad for the coming NSL season.
Knights coach Vlado Vanis was on the verge of signing veteran Slaven Bilic from English Premier League side Everton but the Croatian international pulled out at the last minute.
“He has been recovering from injury and was to see a specialist about the all-clear but he has been told to retire to safeguard an insurance payout,” Vanis said yesterday.
Vanis has turned his attention to two established players at odds with their clubs and is confident he can clinch a deal this week.
“I have wanted a squad of 24 and we have now reached 22 on contract – if we get these two, it will be enough for me,” he said.
Vanis said he was looking at a central defender and a striker, but would not say any more.
“They have to sort out their situation with the club first before we can make any moves,” he said.
Vanis has been one of the busiest coaches in the close season, signing six players for the club.
Top of the list is Angolan striker Toto Da Costa, who has played in Portugal with Sporting Lisbon and Estoril, and in the Netherlands with RVC Roosendall.
“He sent us tapes and I invited him here on what I saw,” Vanis said.
“He has only been here two weeks but everyone is impressed – he is going to be a very good buy.”
Da Costa, whose full name is Antonio Santos Maria, prefers to be known as Toto.
Another signing with a difficult name is Xhezair Sulemani, 19, from Victorian Premier League club South Dandenong.
“Everyone is calling him just `Jezza’. He is a top prospect,” Vanis said.
Andy Vargas, elder brother of Knights defender Rody, has signed from Eastern Pride.
Joel Porter, the former Adelaide Sharks striker, has been recruited from South Australian club Croydon.
They have been joined by Preston pair, stopper Sasa Ognenovski and midfielder Joe Kozic, who played under Vanis during his stint at St. Albans.
Ivan Razov, the St Albans striker who trialled in Germany this winter, has also signed.
Players who left the Knights include captain Ante Kovacevic to Adelaide City; Mark Silic to Sydney United; Zeljko Susa to South Melbourne; and Paul Urlovic to Auckland Kingz.
Veteran striker Ivan Kelic has been given a free release, Toyin Abbas has returned to Nigeria, Michael Reda has not returned from Lebanon, goalkeeper Adam Hrehoreshin has accepted an AIS scholarship and defender Zeljko Rados has been ruled out for six months with a back injury.