Soccer: Young guns set tone for bright All White future

By Michael Burgess

Bill Tuiloma showed huge potential against Mexico. Photo / Getty Images
Bill Tuiloma showed huge potential against Mexico. Photo / Getty Images

Though it is hard to feel positive at the moment, the All Whites could be on the brink of a golden generation.

The comprehensive beating at the hands of Mexico was a setback for the sport but the scars will heal and there is hope on the horizon.

It's quite possible that the team that ends up jousting for a 2018 World Cup spot will be one of the best in All Whites history. There is a base of established professionals who will be hitting their peak in four years, as well as a crop of young players with exciting potential.

There are more starting to make their mark overseas, like 20-year-old Waikato product Ryan Thomas, who has made a promising start in the Dutch Eredivisie with PEC Zwolle.

The cycle from 2010 to 2014 didn't go well. The loss of Ryan Nelsen and Simon Elliott was always going to hurt and too many other veterans from South Africa weren't replaced. They were too old, while the new kids on the block were too young.

Come 2017, there might be a happy medium.

Winston Reid will be 29, the ideal age for a central defender, while Chris Wood and Tommy Smith will be seasoned professionals in England. Marco Rojas will be 26, with (hopefully) seasons of Bundesliga football behind him and Tim Payne might be established at Blackburn.

Then there are the young guns; how good could Bill Tuiloma be in four years with good coaching, hard work and application? Storm Roux, Louis Fenton and Thomas are also full of promise.

"It is encouraging," says All Whites captain Tommy Smith. "There was a lot of young potential out there in Wellington with Bill [Tuiloma], Storm [Roux] and Louis [Fenton] ... really talented boys. It is up to them now to go back to their clubs, work hard and force their way on to the international scene."

Smith's point is a crucial one. Over the past two decades, many young New Zealand footballers have been hailed as the next big thing as they sign with a European club, only to be released after a year or two and slip back down the ladder.

Remember Jack Pelter (Sunderland), James Musa (Fulham), Cameron Lindsay (Blackburn), Andrew Milne (Rangers) and Luke Rowe (Birmingham)?

Gaining a contract is just the first step. Look at Chris James. He was a highly rated prospect at Fulham in the mid-2000s but, after a number of transfers, was playing semi-professional football in Sydney by 2010.

"There was an end of a cycle when players like Ryan [Nelsen] and Simon [Elliott] retired and moved on," says James. "We have missed those players - now it is a recycle system; two of the best players last Wednesday were Storm [Roux] and Bill [Tuiloma]. We have got the players to make another World Cup over the next four years, it is just whether they put in place a programme that allows us to do that, as well as the right coach."

- Herald on Sunday

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf04 at 22 Dec 2014 00:52:29 Processing Time: 515ms