Three of Aotearoa’s brightest young female footballers have landed their maiden professional contracts.
Attacking midfielder Olivia Ingham, winger Manaia Elliott and defensive midfielder Daisy Brazendale have signed with the Wellington Phoenix on three-year deals.
The Phoenix academy graduates will be on scholarship contracts for the next two seasons, before being upgraded to fulltime deals for the 2025-26 Liberty A-League.
Head coach Paul Temple has “got a lot of confidence” in Ingham, Elliott and Brazendale to step up to the professional ranks.
“In January I was coaching the reserves so I’ve worked with all three of them,” Temple said. “I know them as people, I know their families, and I know what makes them tick.
“They’re three talented young women, but what really separates them is that they are so driven and committed to this journey and doing whatever it takes on and off the field to become a professional footballer.
“I know a lot of first team coaches don’t get the privilege of moving with the players through the system. It’s a really cool position to be in because I know what Liv, Manaia and Daisy can do and I’ve got a lot of belief in them.
“We’ve got a lot of good players in the academy and without a doubt there were more contenders for scholarship places.
“Sometimes it comes down to the positions you need in the squad. Daisy is an out and out six, Olivia is an attacking midfielder and Manaia is a winger – positions on the pitch we felt we needed a little extra cover in.”
Ingham, Elliott and Brazendale have followed fellow academy graduate Macey Fraser into the women’s first team, replicating the successful Phoenix pathway that has been in place for several years in the men’s game.
“This is just the start of the evolution and it shows how much we value and appreciate our academy.
“We’ve seen the system work in the men’s team and we are now starting to see that in the women’s space.
“It’s going to be really cool when we get some of these academy graduates on to the pitch and the supporters can see the quality that is coming through the academy, and young women around the country can see the pathway is really clear and visible to them.”
The three scholarship signings have all taken different paths to professional football.
Olivia Ingham, 17, was the first female player to join the academy in 2021, after coming through the ranks at North Wellington FC.
The born and bred Wellingtonian is the academy’s reigning women’s player of the year, having scored and created goals for the club’s reserves and represented New Zealand at the 2022 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in India.
“It’s really exciting to have signed my first pro contract,” Ingham said. “I’ve been working hard for the past few seasons trying to strive towards the A-League.
“I’m really grateful for the opportunity and it’s cool for all of the girls at the academy that there is a pathway into the first team.
“It’s really beneficial for them to see that it is possible if you believe in yourself, take in what the coaches are saying and enjoy your football.”
Unfortunately, Ingham ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee last December and has been unable to play this year.
She is in the final stages of her rehab and is hoping to return to the pitch soon.
Manaia Elliott, 18, joined the academy from Melville United AFC in Hamilton at the start of this year, with her parents following her to the capital soon after.
“It was such a great opportunity to move to the academy,” Elliott said.
“Paul, Katie (Barrott) and Callum (Holmes) have taught me so much already and I am so grateful for the belief they have in me.
“My parents have been so supportive of me throughout this journey too and this opportunity wouldn’t have been possible without them.”
Elliott captained the Young Football Ferns at the 2022 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in India and led New Zealand to an eighth OFC U-19 Women’s Championship title in July.
“I’ve been able to pick up a few leadership roles with the under-17s and the under-19s, which has helped me massively.
“Hopefully I’ll be able to bring that into the Phoenix first team. I have a new perspective and a good tactical awareness of the game.”
Daisy Brazendale, 17, will be the youngest member of the Wellington Phoenix women’s squad.
Brazendale, who doesn’t turn 18 until the end of this season, joined the academy last year from FC Nelson.
“I’m absolutely buzzing to have been given this opportunity,” she said.
“I’m so grateful to be in an environment like the Phoenix and be coached by people like Paul and Katie, who push me hard every day, but also look after me so well as a player and as a person.”
Originally from Golden Bay, Brazendale’s parents have sacrificed a lot for her to follow her footballing dreams.
“I know for a fact I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for them.
“They used to drive me for four hours to get to training in Nelson and my parents then left their jobs and moved to Wellington so I could join the academy, so I can’t thank them enough.”
Paul Temple now has 19 players confirmed in the Wellington Phoenix women’s squad for the 2023-24 Liberty A-League, with Olivia Ingham, Manaia Elliott and Daisy Brazendale joining fellow scholarship player Zoe McMeeken, goalkeeper Brianna Edwards, defenders Hailey Davidson, Michaela Foster, Kate Taylor, Mackenzie Barry, Marisa van der Meer and Rebecca Lake, midfielders Hope Breslin, Chloe Knott, Grace Wisnewski, Alyssa Whinham and Macey Fraser, and forwards Mariana Speckmaier, Emma Main and Michaela Robertson.
Three places remain in the squad, with the players to assemble for the start of pre-season training next week