THE Newcastle Jets are close to signing "three key foreigners" and coach Arthur Papas has ruled out making a play for proven hired gun Besart Berisha.
After moving quickly to rejuvenate the Jets' defence, with the addition of Socceroo Matt Jurman, former Adelaide enforcer Jordan Elsey and rising stars Dane Ingham, Riley Warland and Cameron Devlin, Papas has turned his attention to the front third.
The Jets netted a paltry 24 goals in 26 games last season - the worst output in the A-League.
Roy O'Donovan contributed almost a third of those with seven but was not retained and has been replaced by Georgian front man Beka Mikeltadze.
Berisha is the A-League's all-time leading goal-scorer with 140, but is not in the plans of new Western United coach John Aloisi.
Adelaide boss Carl Veart has expressed an interest in the two-time golden boot, who is 36 next week and coming off his leanest season with seven goals.
"With the signing of Beka, he is someone who is going to take that No.9 spot and hopefully do what he needs to do with it," Papas said. "Not to be disrespectful to Besart - he is a fantastic player - but we have set some targets around the positions we are trying to recruit in.
"It is really important that who walks through the door gives us exactly what we are looking for and what we don't have.
"We are fairly close. It is always the last stage you get to, and you either finalise it or it is not going ahead.
"I would hope, but it is not a guarantee, that in the next seven days we will have signed at least three key foreigners for the squad."
The three potential signings come after the release on Friday of defenders James Donachie, Johnny Koutroumbis and Connor O'Toole. Koutroumbis is expected to link with Western Sydney, while Donachie and O'Toole have joined Sydney FC on one and two-year deals respectively.
"I am really clear on the direction we want to go here," Papas said. "You want people here who are desperate to be here.
"If you want to be successful, you can't have a foot half in the door and half out. I am not going to beg anyone to be part of this program. People need to understand what we are doing is pretty special and you want to be here above all else."
A-League champions Melbourne City, super-charged by Jamie Maclaren's 25 goals, yielded a whopping 57 goals last season.
Papas was reluctant to specify a target for the Jets, but sixth-placed Marcarthur netted 33 and were the lowest of the play-off teams.
"Any team that wants to be successful needs to score goals," Papas said. "There is a lot of research regarding teams who are successful and they are normally teams willing to score goals, be aggressive and be attacking. That suits the model we are trying to put in place here.
"You need to get your recruitment right.
"You can coach certain things but you need players who know how to score goals and create goals."
Mikeltadze played alongside Jurman at Greek club Xanthi last season, where Papas' right hand-man Arthur Diles was the assistant coach.
"The A-League has shown over many years that no matter how many people have said they have done their homework, it is not always guaranteed," Papas said. "With Beka, Matty Jurman has played with him and has been in the same changeroom with him. Arthur Diles knows him. He ticks the boxes you don't normally get to tick. I have that confidence.
"At a minimum, I know what we are getting, and the maximum is up to him."
Valentino Yuel, who scored his four goals last season in the opening seven rounds, returned on Monday from international duty with South Sudan.
Apostolos Stamatelopoulos, who scored three goals in nine starts, is one of a host of players on trial. Six places are available on the roster.
"Every player from the core younger group who weren't offered contracts at the end of last season were given an opportunity to train and show themselves," Papas said. "Some like AP and Jack Armson have taken that opportunity.
"We want to get a really good look at them. It is a new project, new coaching staff. We don't want to give out contracts without people proving they deserve one here.
"So far, they are doing well. They are working hard. It's a competitive sport and there are only so many contracts you can give out in a salary-cap league.
"I do genuinely believe there are players out there who, for one reason or another, haven't been given an opportunity or get forgotten. I think it is always worth keeping an eye on."
The Jets have adopted a new process regarding recruitment after the axing last week of football operations manager Joel Griffiths.
"It is a moving object and comes in different forms," Papas said. "The decision rests with myself in terms of if I feel it is the right player.
"The process is exhaustive. There have been over 200 profiles come through since we started. For me to look at a player, I need eight-to -10 hours of watching him just to make a decision on whether that player suits our profile.
"There is a program I use which helps in terms of assessing players data-wise. It is more advanced than wyscout. It compares players on tiers they have been playing in. For example, the A-League is regarded as a sixth-tier league on the world scale. If you get a player who plays in a fourth-tier league; how would he relate to the A-League in positions and competencies. That is a bit of a starting point for me. It allows me to get through the process a little quicker.
"That is the first part, then it is trying to find references who can validate how they are as people, how they train, are they adaptable, what is the English like ... there are so many questions. It is a big process and that is why it takes a bit of time.
"The other issue is the Coronavirus. You know already that anyone who comes in from outside has 14 days quarantine. The visas process isn't as simple to get in the country."
"We have a lot of background work we are doing. While we are doing that we are putting in some really good work on the field as well.
"The attitude of the players has been fantastic. They are working hard. They are getting an opportunity in advance of some of the boys who might come into the room. They get a chance to impress us early on."
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