Former Phoenix midfielder Albert Riera could be an All White by the end of this year.
The Spanish-born player, who will line up for Auckland City in their friendly against A-League side Melbourne City today, will became eligible for New Zealand in a few weeks after beginning the citizenship application process last year.
The Herald on Sunday understands that once Riera is available, he is likely to be included in one of Anthony Hudson's upcoming squads.
Riera, who has lived in New Zealand since 2011, would be an intriguing choice. He was regarded as one of the A-League's best holding midfielders during much of his time with the Phoenix. Riera has tremendous anticipation and quick feet, with a knack for finding the right pass out of traffic. His form dipped a little in the last A-League season but he still appeals as an asset to an All Whites side facing important World Cup matches in the next year.
"It would be fantastic to play for New Zealand," said Riera. "It's not something that is in my control but it would be great to contribute something and pay back everything this country has given me."
Riera arrived in New Zealand six years ago intending to travel, but linked up with Auckland City through a contact in Spain. Three fruitful seasons at Kiwitea St followed, before his move to the Phoenix after impressing Ernie Merrick in a pre-season match.
Riera was the 2013-14 Phoenix Player of the Year and was picked for the A-League All Stars team to play Juventus. He become a crucial cog in the Wellington team, and shocked many observers when he asked for a release from the final year of his contract.
"It was a fantastic experience but it was the right time to go," he said. "I loved it. It was a dream to play professional football, but it is not an easy life, especially with all the travel. I needed a break from full-time football and didn't want to let anybody down."
Riera admits Merrick was initially surprised when he told him.
"We had a lot of mutual respect and I always wanted to be completely honest with him," said Riera. "If I felt that I wasn't able to give 100 per cent, then I knew it was time to go."
The 32-year-old played 68 games for the Phoenix across three seasons. Apart from the individual thrill of the All Stars game, Riera says the highlight of his time in Wellington was the 2014-15 season, when the team enjoyed an impressive run, especially across the Tasman, to finish fourth and make the A-League playoffs.
He is enjoying a new but familiar challenge at Auckland City, with December's trip to the Club World Cup in Japan already circled in the diary.
"That is a big challenge," said Riera. "We are looking forward to it. We have a fantastic squad and we are very motivated to do something special there."