Soccer: Premier talent being lined up

By Michael Brown

The All Whites' overseas recruitment drive has netted another international prospect - 18-year-old Luke Rowe, from Birmingham City, who could add to our burgeoning defensive stocks.

New Zealand has benefited massively from a global fishing expedition that lured four players - and coach Ricki Herbert is hoping to add Rowe ahead of the 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign.

The All Whites coach went on a worldwide search four years ago to unearth players eligible for New Zealand. Herbert already knew of some, but that contact with players helped encourage Tommy Smith, Michael McGlinchey, Winston Reid and Rory Fallon to pledge allegiance.

Rowe was born in New Zealand but has come through the Birmingham academy system. In March, he was offered a one-year professional contract with the Premier League outfit.

He was a regular in the Birmingham under-18s and played a handful of games for the reserves last season. He is a left fullback who is said to be a "bright, young prospect".

Herbert has been monitoring his progress and tried to get him to Austria to join the World Cup squad for altitude training on their way to South Africa.

"I have spoken to all the management at Birmingham about him," Herbert said. "We can monitor him now. I would have loved to have brought him to Austria but wasn't allowed to.

"I have been in touch with him and he's keen to play for the All Whites. He would be someone who we would look to for the 2014 [World Cup qualifying] campaign. We could bring him in soon so he could play development games."

New Zealand isn't awash with depth. Four amateurs are among the squad of 23 and Fifa estimated New Zealand had a total of only 25 professionals. While this might be a conservative number, it's not far off.

New Zealand's stocks of strikers and central defenders are reasonably healthy but there are gaps across the midfield and at fullback. Herbert didn't take a recognised right back with him to South Africa and Tony Lochhead is the only left back in the squad. Tommy Smith could play there but he is usually a left-sided central defender.

It was part of the reason why Herbert opted for a 3-4-3 formation since the first leg of the World Cup playoff against Bahrain nine months ago.

The All Whites performances in South Africa are the best marketing campaign possible and it might help encourage other eligible players to make themselves known. But Herbert is continuing his search.

"There have to be more out there. Let's say we find another three in the next two years. That's a realistic target."

- NZ Herald

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