The Wellington Phoenix have named their first intake for their ‘finishing school’ program, with eight players selected.
The players, aged between 17 and 20 years old, will train with the A-League club and play with the Phoenix in midweek friendly games as well as be eligible to play for ASB Premiership side Team Wellington in New Zealand’s domestic competition.
The selection of Scott Basalaj (goalkeeper), Luke Rowe (left back), Alec Solomons (centre back), Tom Doyle (midfielder), Justin Gulley (midfielder), Tom Biss (midfielder), Louis Fenton (midfielder) and Tyler Boyd (forward) came after consultation with national age group coaches and ASB Premiership head coaches.
Basalaj was part of the New Zealand Under-17 world cup team, Rowe – who plays for Team Wellington – is a former youth player with Birmingham City, while Biss has recently been playing in Perth’s Premiership State League and Fenton for Victorian Premier League side Melbourne Knights.
Phoenix owners, Welnix, are keen to establish a clear pathway to professional football for talented players in New Zealand and see the finishing school as the ideal way to do this.
In addition to fulfilling their football needs, each player will be offered appropriate accommodation, allowances and schooling opportunities.
“It was quickly apparent that there wasn’t a pathway between amateur and professional football in New Zealand,” said Gareth Morgan, a member of the Welnix consortium.
“Young players had to look beyond New Zealand which wasn’t the best situation.
“What we are establishing is a two-way street. It gives the Phoenix a pool of talent and enables young players to become familiar with the Phoenix training methods and the team structure.
“It also exposes them to a high level of coaching and is a win-win situation for everyone.
“What amazed me was that football is the biggest code in the world and the largest participation sport in New Zealand yet the All Whites have been so lowly-ranked internationally.
“Anything that helps to change that is good for football in this country.”