Wellington Phoenix owners have announced the establishment of a football finishing school they hope will help bolster the game in New Zealand.
The Welnix consortium, which took over the Hyundai A-League club just prior to the start of this season, have always been open about their desire to improve the pathways available to players in New Zealand who are striving to become professionals.
From June, eight players aged 20 and under will be based in Wellington and will train with the Hyundai A-League club and play with the Phoenix in midweek friendly games as well as being eligible to play for ASB Premiership side Team Wellington.
In addition each player will be offered appropriate accommodation, allowances and schooling opportunities.
“We have some amazing young footballers in New Zealand but there is no pathway for these players to develop their skills and migrate into professional contracts without leaving New Zealand,” said Gareth Morgan, a board member of Welnix.
“Our vision is to take these talented individuals from around the country, bring them to Wellington to train and play with the Phoenix, and those that make the grade will start their professional careers at the Phoenix.”
“While the programme provides the best of our youth players with the option of a professional football career, the Phoenix’s future is also more secure if our best up-and-coming players can join our club.”
The eight players will come from around New Zealand and Morgan revealed there would be a variety of ways towards securing possible selection.
“Some will be shoulder tapping and invitations. Some guys will apply and some will be identified for us through the scouting networks,” he said.
“They’ll be under 20s so we’d expect a reasonable number of them to come out of the Under 20s New Zealand squad.”
The Welnix Grassroots initiative is part of a bigger long-term plan to offer comprehensive training and skills development programmes for men, women, boys and girls at a football centre of excellence.
“We are very keen to take the excellence you get from a professional game and spread it across the amateur game,” explained Morgan.
“The thing I find really frustrating about football in New Zealand is that it has huge participation at kiddies level and by the time they come out of school it just sort of dies.”
“We don’t want it to die. How you make a successful sport and a sustainable sport is that there’s somewhere for them to go in the sport.”
“We need to have a very strong pathway where these kids can get to a professional level within New Zealand, not having to leave New Zealand to do it.”
“New Zealand is 199th in the FIFA rankings. That’s pathetic. We need to improve that. How do we do that? This is just one of the ways to try and do that.”
Morgan said the programme had got the backing of both Football Federation Australia and New Zealand Football.
“The players are amateurs so they come under New Zealand Football, not under the A-League,” he said.
“It’s not until they are professionals and employed by the Phoenix that the FFA really enters into this equation.”
“But we have kept both the FFA and NZF very well apprised of what we’re doing and what our intentions are. We’ve tried our best to make sure those bodies are all for what we’re doing. We’ve taken advice from both of them.”