The Wellington Phoenix have committed to one of the club’s brightest young talents for the long-term.
The Phoenix have signed towering Wellington defender Lukas Kelly-Heald until the end of the 2026-27 Isuzu UTE A-League season.
The four-year deal is the longest in club history.
Despite only turning 18 in March, Kelly-Heald has been a regular for the Nix reserves for the past two seasons and started three of New Zealand’s four matches at the recent FIFA U-20 World Cup in Argentina.
Phoenix head coach Giancarlo Italiano has kept a keen eye on the 1.98m tall defender since he joined the academy at the start of 2021.
“Lukas is a great kid and technically a very nice player,” Italiano said. “Physically he’s big which will help him matching up to the more senior players in the A-League.
“He’s worked hard at the academy, and I’ve always had good reports from his coaches that he’s really focused to do well and go to that next stage.
“I think there’s a lot of upside with him. He’s got a great attitude, he’s a good professional and he’s always asking the right questions.”
Italiano believes Kelly-Heald is ready to make the step up to the A-League this season.
“I’ve got no fear in playing these younger players, as long as they can give me the output I’m looking for and demonstrate their drive and focus. I’m happy to reward any player that does that.
“Our goal is to develop Lukas into a first team player and showcase him on a bigger stage.
“We see him as a potential All White, with the ability to play overseas in the future.”
Signing with the Phoenix is the realisation of a childhood dream for the born and bred Wellingtonian, who grew up watching the likes of Paul Ifill, Roly Bonevacia, Andrew Durante and Ben Sigmund at Sky Stadium.
“It’s been a goal of mine since I first watched a Phoenix game,” Kelly-Heald said.
“Growing up in Wellington watching the Nix week-in, week-out it’s like a dream come true to now be part of the first-team squad.
“It’s always been a cool experience going to the stadium to watch the Phoenix and you aspire to be them and get to their level.
“It’s great to have the coaches and staff show their faith in me with a four-year contract. My parents and family are over the moon.”
He played his junior football at Island Bay United and played one season at North Wellington before joining the Phoenix academy, which has played a major role in the left-footed player’s growth as a footballer.
“The amount of development over the last couple of years has been humungous.
“The high quality coaching and support staff at the academy have helped me progress to where I am today.
“Reserves head coach Chris Greenacre and assistant Steve Coleman have been really instrumental in developing me as a player and as a person.
“It’s a great privilege to be involved in the academy and wear the same badge as all the Phoenix players I’ve watched in the stadium and on TV.”
His twin brother Alby is the reserves’ no. 1 goalkeeper and was also part of New Zealand’s squad at the FIFA U-20 World Cup.
Both will be eligible to attend the next FIFA U-20 World Cup in 2025 and Lukas Kelly-Heald also has his eye on next year’s Paris Olympics, having represented the New Zealand U-22 team in March.
Kelly-Heald will wear the Phoenix men’s no. 18 shirt, which was previously worn by fan favourites Ben Sigmund, Sarpreet Singh and Ben Waine.
He is the men’s 16th signing for the 2023-24 Isuzu UTE A-League, with all the players having assembled in Wellington for the start of pre-season training.