Leon Birnie isn't about to get too far ahead of himself but it's fair to say he is on a well-trodden track to become the Football Ferns coach.

"I guess that, as a coach, that is the pinnacle of the women's game in New Zealand so it is a long-term goal," Birnie says, happy to tread gingerly and meaningfully towards the ultimate role after his appointment last week as the female national under-20 coach to the age-group World Cup in Papua New Guinea in October next year.

In fact, the 33-year-old from Napier arrived in Canada on Tuesday for the Women's World Cup kicking off this weekend - the first Fifa tournament to be staged completely on artificial turfs.

He didn't need a second invite to observe the Football Ferns' campaign as the Tony Reading and Aaron McFarland-coached Kiwis kick off at 7pm tomorrow against The Netherlands in Edmonton.


Their other group A matches include playing the hosts at the same time and venue on Thursday, June 11, before taking on China on June 15 at 11.30am in Winnipeg in the 24-team tourney.

Birnie, who arrived in Canada on Tuesday, has enjoyed working as assistant to ex-coach Jitka Klimkova in the age-group stable in the build up to the Under 17 World Cup campaign in Costa Rica last year.

"I've been lucky enough to be invited to go with the Football Ferns to their World Cup as an extended staff [member] because I'm with the 20s.

"They see it as a natural pathway for me to go and learn and develop in that environment."

While luck is something he alludes to frequently during the interview, Birnie's emergence as an elite home-grown mentor is anything but chance.

The "unbelievable" stint the next few weeks is about taking the initiative to maximise opportunities with Reading and McFarland.

"I'm very lucky to be appointed and it's a great opportunity for me so I'm excited and looking forward to it."

It's an ambition Birnie has harboured for quite a while behind the scenes.


"You knuckle down, do the right things and work in the right environment, and take your chances when you're in the spotlight."

NZ Football is in the process of looking for Kiwi-based coaches and Birnie feels he has timed his run well.

"Being a Kiwi, I've been working in the country all my life so it's a bonus," he says, delighted to find a career pathway on home soil.

When he was deputising in the Under 17 equation, NZ Football had an all-female policy on mentors so he thought he would play second fiddle.

"It just meant at that time the highest I could go was as an assistant coach," says the man who has always enjoyed coaching in the female arena.

However, he is quite comfortable about assuming the mantle of coaching either gender.

"To me you're a coach so you coach whichever group you have the opportunity to work with."

For the man who led the Maycenvale Misfits women's team to numerous titles when he started with them seven years ago, believes there's a difference in the way one unlocks the hidden talent and enhances it between the different sexes.

"How you deal with players individually and the tactics you use are slightly different."

About 80 per cent of the players he was involved in the U17s are likely to graduate to the U20s.

That continuity isn't lost on Birnie.

"I know who the players are, I know what worked for them overseas, what their strengths and weaknesses are and I've had good relationships with them so it's quite exciting to be working with them again."

The first camp is next month (July) to identify the U20 players with pedigree national league background before the qualifiers in September at a venue to be determined.

"I've got a good playing knowledge that I'm able to apply to really get across to players very simplistically to take on board," says the former Hawke's Bay United and New Zealand A player, revealing NZ Football considered that nous as a pivotal factor in his appointment.

Birnie will adopt a playing philosophy in accordance with the succession plan that will lead to enhancing the Football Ferns' culture.

"It won't be as extensive as the Football Ferns but it'll have a lot of aspects in their campaign."

Ensuring as many players as possible are in a better place after the U20s campaign is his objective.

Birnie is indebted to his employers, Central Football, for enabling him to juggle his international pursuits.

"They have been very good supporters and they want me to push on like any of their staff members," says the Central Football federation development officer for the Bay.