Chris Wood - the Kiwi playing for Leeds is Europe's top scorer

By Craig Hope

Chris Wood arrived in England at 16 after a trial with West Bromwich, and is now one of the Championship's top strikers. Photo / Getty Images
Chris Wood arrived in England at 16 after a trial with West Bromwich, and is now one of the Championship's top strikers. Photo / Getty Images

All Whites striker Chris Wood won January's Championship Player of the Month award and is one of Europe's top scorers this year. The Daily Mail's Craig Hope interviewed the Kiwi to see what all the fuss is about.

Chris Wood is clutching his Player of the Month trophy and being followed by a photographer through a corridor of Leeds United's training ground when he bumps into Rob Green.

"Ah, it's the player of the month," mocks the former England goalkeeper, making fun of this newfound interest in his team-mate.

Wood scores the opening goal for Leeds against Derby County, one of his seven so far in 2017. Photo / Getty Images
Wood scores the opening goal for Leeds against Derby County, one of his seven so far in 2017. Photo / Getty Images

Green is out of earshot by the time the New Zealand international smiles and says: "Goalkeepers are weird.

No one knows this but I was a keeper when I was 13. I got stuck there one game, kept a clean sheet and liked it.

"I was tall and knew where strikers would shoot. But I soon realised they are a strange bunch. It wasn't for me."

What a waste it would have been. For not only is he the Sky Bet Championship's best player right now, he is top of Europe's goalscoring chart this year. The 25-year-old has seven goals in 2017 - one more than such players as Harry Kane, Romelu Lukaku and Gonzalo Higuain.

"I didn't know that, I just score the goals and leave that sort of thing to you guys," says the man who is leading Leeds' promotion charge with 21 goals this season.

There is, however, one opponent he concedes would still get the better of him.

"If anyone could mark me out of a game then it would definitely be my sister," says the 1.91m frontman.

Was that a joke? It appears not. Wood recalls his childhood in Auckland with older sister Chelsey, who would go on to star for New Zealand at two Under 20 World Cups.

Chelsey Wood, like her brother, has played for New Zealand. Photo / Getty Images
Chelsey Wood, like her brother, has played for New Zealand. Photo / Getty Images

"She was better than me for a very long time and technically she probably still is," says Wood, who became the All Whites' youngest captain at 23.

"We played together in all our junior teams. Looking back it's amazing we could do that.

"She was a centre back and went on to do great things, but she's also the brains of the family. She did an optometry degree and has her own career as an optician now.

"But she's on the phone all the time. I've never said this to her, but she doesn't realise how much of an effect her support has on me.

"We were so close as kids so to be apart is hard. Now we're living on different sides of the world and doing our own thing, but we still have that bond."

Wood attended the same school as former New Zealand cricket captain Daniel Vettori - he admits he drew inspiration from his achievements - but it was rugby which posed the biggest threat to his footballing ambitions.

Wood is a hit with the fans after putting in a number of match-winning performances. Photo / Getty Images
Wood is a hit with the fans after putting in a number of match-winning performances. Photo / Getty Images

He says: "I played through school because the other lads bullied me. They'd say, 'You're too soft, you can't play rugby.' I thought, 'I'll show you.'

"I started playing and soon knocked a few of them over. That shut them up. I didn't have any real talent, it was just my size which helped me get away with it."

Wood arrived in England at 16 after a trial with West Bromwich. It was a move which, geographically at least, split the family in two.

He and London-born mum, Julie, set up home in Great Barr, while Kiwi dad, Grant, stayed in Auckland for 18 months before Chelsey moved to university.

Wood was still just 17 when handed a shock Premier League debut. He says: "I'd only been training with the first team for a few days when Tony Mowbray said, 'Go home, get your tracksuit, you're coming with us.'.

"I ran into the house, grabbed my stuff and shouted, 'mum, I'm off to Portsmouth, see you later,' and ran out the door.

"She rang Dan Ashworth, who was head of the academy, and asked what was happening. He asked if she'd like to go. Mum was like, 'Ah no, it's OK, it's his thing.' Dan knew I was on the bench and said, 'I think you should go.'

"Mum was taking loads of photos, as parents do. It was 3am back home but she called dad, 'He's coming on!' Dad wanted to listen to the atmosphere. The phone was on the seat for the rest of the game.

"That was a proud moment for them. They gave up everything for me, their jobs, their friends, mum seeing her daughter every day. I will never forget that."

Wood was the youngest All Whites skipper. Photo / photosport.co.nz
Wood was the youngest All Whites skipper. Photo / photosport.co.nz

A nomadic six-club loan existence followed before a £2million move to Leicester in 2013.

"I was in the promotion side, playing and scoring goals," he says. "Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy were on the bench. They are now the best English strikers we've got, it just shows how quickly football can change."

Did he, then, watch with a sense of regret as Leicester lifted the Premier League title?

"Honestly? I would have been in the stands the whole time," he says. "It would have been another wasted year for me, you can't afford those."

And so to Leeds in a £3m deal. Last month he was valued at £15m as top-flight clubs circled.

"Why would I leave here when we could be in the Premier League come May? It's a no-brainer," he says. "This is where I'm doing so well, it's perfect. And if the owner says I'm worth £15m...happy days!"

Win promotion, however, and Wood will be priceless.

- Daily Mail

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