James Ihaka

James Ihaka is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

Soccer: Nottingham Forest snap up talented Kiwi teenager

Dylan Burns was at the training academy for just two weeks when he was signed by Nottingham Forest.
Dylan Burns was at the training academy for just two weeks when he was signed by Nottingham Forest.

A Kiwi teenage soccer prodigy has signed a two-year scholarship with former English giants Nottingham Forest just two weeks after arriving in Britain seeking to impress scouts.

Dylan Burns of Westlake Boys High School was to have spent three months battling at the Nike Academy in an ultra-competitive environment under the watchful gaze of European scouts and coaches in the hope of securing a contract with a top club.

But the 17-year-old midfielder has been picked up by former European Cup winners Nottingham Forest.

It's a coup for Burns, who a month ago was competing at Nike's The Chance programme, a global soccer talent search that gives young players from around the world an opportunity to impress with their skills in front of top coaches and mentors.

He emerged top of a trial of 50 New Zealand hopefuls and was selected alongside four other winners from Brazil, the Netherlands, England and South Africa to go to England to join the academy, an elite, fulltime pro-level training programme where selected players work on their game in pursuit of a professional contract.

Burns packed his bags after helping his Auckland City side to a 3-0 win over Nelson-Marlborough in the ASB Youth League final.

"I'm extremely excited by the opportunity to play with Nottingham Forest, and how quickly it has happened," Burns said.

"I'm so appreciative of Nike for the role it has played in my development and providing me the opportunity to be noticed by international scouts."

His father John told the Herald things had happened "exceedingly quickly" for his son, who didn't expect to be picked up by a club so soon.

"His expectation was that they would keep him there for a minimum of three months. He wanted to get past the three months and get kept there at the academy," said Mr Burns.

"It's a tremendous opportunity - he's put in a lot of hard work to get there with the academy and all the trials he's been through after 12 years of playing football."

Mr Burns said his son grew up idolising Liverpool but was excited about his opportunity at Nottingham Forest, which is seventh in the Championship. Former players include Irish great Roy Keane, former English goalkeeper Peter Shilton and soon-to-be manager Stuart Pearce.

"It's a big club, not a Premiership club but it is a well-known club who are doing quite well in the Championship. He wouldn't be playing in the first team yet but even to be training in that environment is just huge.

"To have a two-year scholarship obviously, he has to go beyond that and get a full contract or something offered to take him beyond that. Obviously that's the goal."

Several young Kiwi soccer players have been on the verge of making it in the world's richest football league only to fade into obscurity.

Top earners in the Premier League such as Manchester United's Wayne Rooney and Robert Van Persie can pocket salaries of up 250,000 ($481,487) a week, according to Matthew Buck, who is the director of player management at the Professional Footballers' Association.

Hall of fame
NZ is sorely under-represented in European football - but if young Aucklander Dylan Burns does make it he will join the likes of ...
Winston Reid: The 25-year-old All Whites captain is a regular at the back for West Ham and the only Kiwi in the Premier League.
*Chris Wood: The big striker previously represented West Bromwich Albion but has been plying his trade in the Championship with Leicester City who recently gained promotion back to the top flight for next season.
*Marco Rojas: Pint-sized Rojas was last year signed by Bundesliga club VfB Stuttgart in a four-year deal.

- NZ Herald

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