The future of football in Northland has received a massive boost with the start of the Ricki Herbert Football Academy talent centre in Kamo yesterday .
About 40 local football players between the ages of seven to 14, are set to be the first of many to go through the newest of the 11 academy programmes across the upper North Island. The initiative was a collaboration between Kamo High School, Kamo Intermediate School, Hurupaki Primary School and the Kamo Soccer Club.
All schools would have football programmes run within them, unique to the need of the respective school, to offer young players a high level of coaching and a pathway beyond what was currently available in Northland.
Players had been selected from junior and youth courses held in the school holidays throughout the past 18 months and would have the opportunity to attend inter-centre and national tournaments later in the year.
"Collectively, we felt there was a really good opportunity from an expansion point of view to have something like an academy there," Academy namesake Ricki Herbert said.
"It's an important part of the country that needs the support and we just feel great that we are able to provide that."
Herbet, who earned international 61 caps as a player, coached the All Whites to their second Fifa World Cup campaign in 2010, where, despite not making it out of the group stages, were the only team in the tournament not to lose a game.
Trainings occurred weekly and would run alongside the school terms, focussing on different training themes as the year progressed. Together with the holiday programmes, the centre was effectively a year-long endeavour, a fact Herbert was proud to highlight.
"You've basically got a 50-week programme where you can keep learning and challenging yourself in a fun environment.
"At the end of the day, children need to enjoy it and this expansion into a talent centre has been the outcome of the parents and children really loving it."
From the last year's national tournament, two young Kamo players were selected for the academy's trip this year to the Gold Coast in Australia where they would get a taste of international football.
The academy also had a connection with English club Fulham FC which offered the opportunity give a select few players the chance to experience a professional environment.
"It's a fantastic link, it's a nice fit for what we are doing and the Fulham club help wherever they can," Herbert said.
As a child who grew up in South Auckland, Herbert understood how a consistent football programme could reinvigorate a great footballing region of the past.
"Years ago, there were some names coming out of the Far North area and we want to provide that chance for talent to come out of it again.
"I was lucky from a parent point of view because while football was not strong in the region, there were opportunities in the region that I could go to on a regular basis."
He said this centre would be a drawcard to keep young talent in the region because players could rely on the consistency and level of play.
"From a parent point of view, if you knew you're child was going to have consistency, a programme operating every week of the year, invitations to national competitions, that would be a great pathway to see and work towards."
The academy had produced some prominent talent over the years. Wellington Phoenix star Liberato Cacace spent about four years in the programme, as well as four players who represented New Zealand in the under-17 World Cup in India in 2017.
For Herbert, promoting those who were more successful was not the focus, rather, helping players achieve their own goals, regardless of how high it was up the New Zealand football ladder.
"It's not all about being a Wellington Phoenix player or a national under-17 representative player, you might actually want to play in the senior team for Kamo football club, which may not had happened if you didn't have this opportunity.
"We just think we are getting kids to a really good technical level and understanding of the game and then hopefully their next steps are into something a little bigger than what they would have been."
For more information, visit www.rickiherbertfootballacademy.co.nz