Michael Burgess

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Soccer: Model star still looks the part

Tamati Williams starred for Auckland City. Photo / Getty Images
Tamati Williams starred for Auckland City. Photo / Getty Images

For a man who has spent the past few years on the world's catwalks, Auckland City goalkeeper Tamati Williams gave a model performance at the Club World Cup last Thursday night.

Seen as a surprise inclusion by many, Williams was a stand-out against Hiroshima, making several world-class saves that kept Auckland in the game.

The match marked a top-level return for Williams after he put football on hold to pursue a modelling career in Europe.

"I had about four years away from football when I worked as a full-time model," says Williams. "It was a great experience but I had to put football on the backburner. At the time, I was in the national team, so it didn't sit well with a lot of coaches."

Williams was a cocky, talented kid when he came through the grades and was picked up by the Football Kingz at the age of 19. He also made the All Whites squad in the middle of the last decade before forgoing football for fashion.

"At the time, I enjoyed it, even though I missed football," says Williams, 28, who worked for worldwide brands such as Calvin Klein, Esprit and Dolce & Gabbana. "It was good fun, easy work and cool to see my face [on a billboard] in the middle of Dubai but now I'm done with that chapter in my life."

At times on Thursday, it seemed like he had never been away, as he continually repelled the hot-shooting Hiroshima. The 1.92m Williams set the tone in the first few minutes when he dived well to deny an attempt that was arcing inside the post.

"I caught a big break," he says. "This was my first game at this level for a while and there were parts I was happy with. My first few touches were good, which released any nerves."

"We needed a big game from him, and Tama was great," says Auckland City captain Ivan Vicelich. "He was outstanding with some of his saves and you usually need that to make history - just like Mark Paston."

Midway through the second half, Williams made a brilliant double save, snuffing out two scoring opportunities in quick succession. It threatened to be a pivotal moment - his team lifted noticeably - but any lasting effects were negated by the goal just over a minute later.

"I was disappointed to concede a goal, though I have never seen a ball move like that," says Williams of the stunning shot. "Conceding at that time definitely knocked me but what can you do? You have to play on."

From the joys of playing in the 70,000 capacity Yokohama Stadium (which hosted the 2002 World Cup final), Williams and his team-mates return to reality next week.

They face YoungHeart Manawatu at Kiwitea Street needing to make up some lost ground on the leading bunch in the ASB Premiership.

"It's up to us to refocus now," says Vicelich. "We have to move on from Japan and focus on the ASB Premiership and then the O-League next year."

- Herald on Sunday

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