Leijer lured by Roo influx

Ernie Merrick believes the recent influx of current Socceroos back to the Hyundai A-League is one of the key reasons behind Adrian Leijer's decision to return to Melbourne Victory.

Melbourne coach Ernie Merrick believes the recent influx of current Socceroos back to the Hyundai A-League is one of the key reasons behind central defender Adrian Leijer's decision to return to the club after two years with English Premier League club Fulham.

Leijer, 23, who has signed a three-year deal with his former club, arrives in Australia on Saturday and could play in Saturday's clash with North Queensland in Townsville.

Merrick has spoken to Leijer several times over the past few months and said that the fact the likes of current Socceroos Jason Culina, Mile Sterjovski, Jacob Burns and Chris Coyne had all come back to the Hyundai A-League this season was a factor in Leijer's decision.

"That seems to be the way then that players, and the Socceroos especially are thinking. Look at the three Socceroos that have signed with Perth, Culina's gone back to Gold Coast. They know it is good quality football, they know of the Asian Champions League, which Adrian comes into now. They know that the national coach Pim Verbeek is based in Australia as opposed to Guus Hiddink, who was based in Europe," he said.

"There's tremendous opportunities in this A-League now. It's a full-time environment where the standard of competition seems to be increasing every year."

Merrick said there was still an opportunity for Leijer to play top-flight football in Europe, despite the fact he has signed a three-year deal with Melbourne.

"All of the players would love to play at the highest level of professionalism that they can. It's a bit like saying to Aaron Baddeley, the golfer, that you can only ever play golf here in Australia. To have ambitions to play overseas, or more importantly to play for the Socceroos is a great ambition, we would never take that away from anyone. He's firmly committed to three years with Melbourne Victory," he said.

Leijer was a crucial player in Melbourne's premiership and championship winning season of 2006/07, providing an anchor in defence and forming a fearsome combination with Rody Vargas. Merrick said that while Leijer has not played a lot of football in the past two years at Craven Cottage, he believes he has improved greatly as a player.

"I've met him a couple of times on his return during his break. He certainly physically looks terrific. He left as a 21-year old and now he's two years more mature, he's physically very strong. He tells me that some of the football he's been playing in the reserves has been very good," he said.

"He's certainly matured as a person, and I think he's got excellent leadership capabilities."