Kolkata giants East Bengal have signed 32 year old New Zealand International Leonida Christos “Leo” Bertos as their marquee player on a two year deal following an AIFF directive making it mandatory for I-League clubs to sign a marquee player. The signing by Lal-Hould brigade follows a series of announcements by I-League clubs which saw Bengaluru FC rope in former England U-20 player Josh Walker and Mohun Bagan rope in Pierre Boya as their marquee players.
Born to a Greek father and a New Zeland mother, Bertos started his playing career at Wellington Olympic AFC, a semi-professional club where he played for three years from 1997 to 2000. Betos then moved on to England where he played for the Barnsley’ s youth team before signing a professional contract with the senior team in 2001. A knee injury meant that he could only play 12 matches in three years at the club and he scored a goal in those 12 matches. Bertos then had a successful two year stint with English second division club Rochdale where he scored 13 times in the 82 matches he played.
Following a not so productive 2005-2006 year where he changed three clubs, Bertos signed for A-League side Perth Glory and went to start all the 21 matches of the season. Bertos assisted in 9 goals and finished as the highest assisting player in the A-League that season. During the 2007–08 season Bertos made fourteen appearances for the club and scored one goal and two assists. After spending two years with the club, Bertos joined his hometown club Wellington Phoenix and became a vital player in the club’s midfield. He played over 120 matches at the club in his six year stint and scored nine goals besides notching up several assists. Bertos was in prime form in the 2009-10 season as he led his club to their first finals appearance.
Bertos has been a regular player for the New Zeland national team since making his senior team against Iran back in 2003. Bertos has 56 senior caps to his name and it was his delivery from the corner that resulted in a New Zeland goal against Bahrain and secured their participation in the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Bertos started in all three games in 2010 FIFA World Cup and put in impressive performances in all three matches. Bertos has also played for the New Zeland U-23 team and has a goal to his name. Earlier in the year he represented his nation in the a three match Futsal series against Australia. Known for his dribbling skills and his control on the ball, Bertos displayed his skills in a match against Brazil in where he dribbled past two defenders to secure a corner for his team. Bertos also notched up two assists against Italy in the 2009 Confederations Cup at South Africa.
2013/14 was a year of transition for East Bengal following the departure of Trevor Morgan. The club surprisingly released their play-maker Penn Orji and surprisingly signed 35 year old Ryuiji Seuoka. Though Sueoka had some good games for the club, he was unable to match the expectations that the club had from him. The Japanese missed a part of the season due to injury and the club often lacked a play-maker and an attacking midfielder in the final third. The likes of Cavin Lobo, Lalrindika Ralte, Mehtab Hossain and Harmanjot Khabra all played in that position but the absence of a quality foreign play-maker did hurt East Bengal’ s title hopes. The signing of Bertos by the club is hence a step in that direction.
At the club Bertos will have at his disposal one of the best Indian midfield consisting of the likes of Mehtab Hossain, Cavin Lobo, Lalrindika Ralte, Khabra and Abranches. It will be interesting to see how the World Cupper links up his teammates specially Ranti Martins, who has been a prolific scorer in Indian Football. With proper supply, Martins is capable of scoring a lot of goals and the East Bengal fans will be looking to see the Bertos-Martins combination in action. Bertos holds the all-time leading assists record for the Wellington Phoenix with 12 and if he can recreate his magic at Kolkata, East Bengal would surely be one of the title contenders. The young players at the club will surely benefit from Bertos’ s experience of playing at the highest level and if he can keep himself fit, he will surely become one of the best foreign players in the I-League.
Bertos is known to beat defenders with his pace & trickery and also for his delivery from the flanks and the Lal-Hould brigade have certainly hit gold by signing him on a two year deal. The challenge however for Bertos will be recover completley from the injury that kept him away for the most of the last season. East Bengal have narrowly missed out on the I-League crown on more than one occasion in recent times and given his experience of playing at the highest level, Leo Bertos may prove to be man who can bring the elusive I-League crown to the club.