The Wellington Phoenix have secured their fourth import for the 2021-22 campaign, signing a player who briefly featured under Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United and was later a teammate of Chris Wood at Leeds United.
English centre-back Scott Wootton has agreed terms with the club and is expected to arrive next week.
The 30-year-old has played more than 200 league matches across the Championship, League One and League Two and will add invaluable experience to the young Phoenix squad.
Wootton was a Liverpool youth player before joining the Manchester United academy as a 16-year-old.
Most of his senior career at Old Trafford was spent out on loan but he got his chance in Ferguson's final season, appearing in two Champions League ties and two League Cup matches, alongside the likes of Paul Scholes, Wayne Rooney and Ryan Giggs. He was part of the Premier League matchday squad on six occasions, though never took the field for the Red Devils.
Wootton then made 74 appearances for Leeds between 2013 and 2016, which coincided with Wood's successful spell at the club. During that time at Elland Road he first had contact with the Phoenix, having some discussions with operations manager Shaun Gill, but Wootton said the "timing wasn't quite right" given he had a one-year-old daughter.
"This time the timing is absolutely perfect," said Wootton. "It's the perfect step I feel in my career…and I couldn't be happier to be joining the Phoenix at this moment.
"From the research I've done and people I've spoken to the club has got a lot of talent and obviously it's in a difficult position at the minute and not where it wants to be.
"I hope my experience can help that, improve the team and improve the results on the pitch.
"I'm a good talker, I'm a good communicator and that's how I'll try and put my stamp on the team. Hopefully I can bring that bit of calmness and that experience to help the team."
An ACL injury stalled his career in 2016 and he has since played in League One – England's third division – for MK Dons, Plymouth Argyle and Wigan before joining Morecambe in August last year.
The 1.88m Wootton made 14 appearances for the Shrimps prior to Christmas, before Wellington approached him.
"The chance to go and play in the A-League is one I just couldn't turn down," said Wootton, who represented England's Under-17 team as a teenager.
"I've got loads of friends who have played there, I know members of staff who have coached and managed over there and they all spoke so highly about the quality, the standard and the athleticism.
"When comparing it to England they say it's about Championship level, which is great for me."
Wootton joins compatriots David Ball and Gary Hooper and Mexican Gael Sandoval as the club's visa signings.
Supporters will hope Wootton, who is signed until the end of this season, can make a similar defensive impact to Steven Taylor, the former captain whose sudden departure last September left the club with limited options in central defence.
- by Michael Burgess, NZ Herald