Young Auckland midfielder recommits to the Nix

Ben Old has committed his future to the Wellington Phoenix before the new Auckland expansion team has even got off the ground.

The attacking midfielder, who was coming off contract at the end of the season, has re-signed with the Phoenix through until the end of the 2026-27 Isuzu UTE A-League.

Old, 21, grew up in Auckland but has been in Wellington for the past six years since joining the club’s academy as a 15-year-old.

He says it was the obvious decision to re-sign with the Nix.

“I’ve got my family and all of my loved ones up in Auckland and it does sound like a nice thing to play for them,” Old said. “But the Phoenix have helped me so much with my development, I feel like I’ve cemented a good spot in the squad, and the staff are amazing.

“The philosophy the club is bringing in also makes it the perfect environment for me.

“There’s been a big shift this season in the club wanting to bring through a lot of young boys and you’ve seen Chiefy and the staff have placed a lot of trust in us to play.

“Having an environment that wants to bring young players through and develop them and then sell them on is the perfect place for me to develop, build up my minutes and grow as a player.”

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND – NOVEMBER 04: Ben Old of the Phoenix attempts to evade Louis Zabala of the Roar during the A-League Men round three match between Wellington Phoenix and Brisbane Roar at Sky Stadium, on November 04, 2023, in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Old’s contract extension comes three weeks after young goalkeeper Alex Paulsen recommitted to the club through to the end of the 2026-27 season.

Paulsen is also from Auckland and they joined the academy at the same time.

“It’s great seeing what the club’s doing, how they’re really bringing through a lot of the academy boys.

“We both trust the Phoenix to play us and support us through what is quite an important stage in our careers.

“It’s the best environment to be in to show what we’re made of and then hopefully be able to go overseas.”

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND – OCTOBER 13: Ben Old in action during the Wellington Phoenix A-League Men’s training session at NZCIS on October 13, 2023 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Ben Old is in his third full season with the Nix and is fast approaching his 50th A-League match. He had a breakout debut campaign, playing 24 matches in the 2021-22 season, but was limited to 17 appearances, just three of which were starts, last season because of osteitis pubis, an overuse injury resulting in painful inflammation in the groin.

“It was a really tough season last season. I felt like I was breaking through into the team early on and then this injury happens.

“I was able to play through the pain, but I wasn’t able to play to the standard that I wanted to. Eventually I just had to stop playing. That was a decision I took with the medical team.

“Thankfully we stopped then because any longer it would have just prolonged my time out.”

The club’s medical staff led by head physio Cory Glover worked with the New Zealand age-group international, who has been capped twice at senior level, throughout the off-season and pre-season to get Old back on the field for the start of the new campaign.

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND – OCTOBER 13: L to R, Ben Old, Sam Sutton, David Ball and head physio Cory Glover look on during the Wellington Phoenix A-League Men’s training session at NZCIS on October 13, 2023 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

“I wasn’t meant to be back until the start of the January so it’s a real credit to them.

“It was an injury which Cory and I had to do a lot of work and research on to understand because it’s not a common injury. It was tough for us, but we did really well to get back as soon as we did.”

Having come off the bench in the first four rounds of the 2023-24 season as the coaching staff built up his minutes, Ben Old is now pushing to start against Melbourne City at Go Media Stadium Mt Smart on Saturday afternoon.

“That would be amazing. I actually haven’t started a game in Auckland yet and that would be so cool for me and my family.

“It could be an opportunity this week, but if the coaching staff want me to come off the bench, I’ll do whatever I can to help the team win.”

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND – OCTOBER 13: Coach Giancarlo Italiano shares a laugh with head physio Cory Glover during the Wellington Phoenix A-League Men’s training session at NZCIS on October 13, 2023 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Phoenix head coach Giancarlo Italiano has hailed Old’s contract extension, believing the attacking midfielder is a player “to build our team around”.

“Oldie has proven to be a very valuable player in the team,” Italiano said. “He’s had a significant setback with his injury and Cory Glover’s done a great job of getting him to a point where we’re able to give him good gametime.

“Now it’s about incrementally getting him to a point where he can start games. We consider him a massive part of the team so we want him to be starting as many games, and build on those 50 odd appearances.

“The next goal is getting him to a point where he can take that next step. Obviously going to an Olympics and doing well, and even the potential if he does really well going to Europe.”