Young history-maker signs maiden pro contract

Gabriel Sloane-Rodrigues is officially graduating into the Wellington Phoenix first team.

The forward, who last month became the youngest Phoenix player to play in the A-League, has signed with the club for the next three seasons.

Sloane-Rodrigues put pen to paper on his first pro contract, the first two years of which are on scholarship terms, three months before his 17th birthday.

“It’s been a big dream of mine since I joined the academy,” he said. “I didn’t think it would come this quickly.

“I’m obviously over the moon about it.”

The New Zealand U-17 international moved to Wellington with his mum Donna when he was 14 to join the Phoenix academy, having played his junior football for East Coast Bays AFC and Auckland United FC.

“She’s played a massive role in my football and I’m really grateful to have her here with me.

“My mum takes me to all my trainings and games, buys me boots and new gear, and feeds me every day.

“She could have just told me I could board, but she’s made some sacrifices herself to help me with my football journey so I really appreciate her.”

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND – APRIL 16: Gabriel Sloane-Rodrigues poses prior to a Wellington Phoenix A-League training session at NZCIS on April 16, 2024 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Sloane-Rodrigues will become the seventh player to graduate from the academy into the first team since Giancarlo Italiano took over as head coach.

“It’s difficult for a coach to have that much faith in young players, but it’s been working.

“He trusts his young players and it makes us more confident.

“He always tells me he doesn’t care if I make mistakes as long as I keep working hard and don’t put my head down.”

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND – APRIL 16: Coach Giancarlo Italiano and Gabriel Sloane-Rodrigues pose during a Wellington Phoenix A-League press conference at NZCIS on April 16, 2024 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

He started training with the first team during pre-season after Italiano spotted him playing for the Phoenix thirds in the Capital Premier League.

“I felt as though he had a little bit of x-factor about him,” Italiano said. “He was doing things different to what the other players were.

“He was taking on players, dribbling, switching the ball on the run and I just felt like he had a point of difference, and I liked it.

“When he first came into training he showed the same thing which I saw in the game so that gave me a lot of confidence.”

Gabriel Sloane-Rodrigues looks on at Wellington Phoenix training. Photo: Cam McIntosh/Photomac.

Giancarlo Italiano believes the step up to professional football will be “a big jump” for Gabriel Sloane-Rodrigues but he has the “potential to be a real point of difference for us”.

“He needs time, but after two years in this environment he’ll be flying.

“I would like to see him build gametime next season…a bit like how Oskar van Hattum has progressed this season. I see that sort of trajectory for him.

“Once he scores and he gets a bit of belief I think he can do really well.

“I also want to see him make the next national team for his age-group.”

Gabriel Sloane-Rodrigues’ signing means the Phoenix have now contracted 17 players for the 2024-25 A-League season and beyond.