New All Whites defender Liberato Cacace is ready for some gentle ribbing from his teammates over the next 10 days.

While they will enjoy some downtime between matches at the four-nation tournament in Mumbai, Cacace will be sequestered in his room, attempting to keep up with studies and assignments.

That's because the 17-year-old is still at school, juggling his final year at St Patrick's College in Wellington with a blossoming football career.

It's a tough ask, and increasingly rare in modern day sport, with the emergence of academies and the need for full-time training from a younger age.


So far though Cacace is coping. He missed a decent chunk of academic time earlier this year with his Phoenix exploits and recently attended the Hong Kong Sixes with the Wellington club. He won't be back at school until mid-June, with the All Whites facing matches against Kenya, Chinese Taipei and India.

"I'll work away in the background and the teachers send me plenty of digital stuff," said Cacace. "Hopefully it will keep things fresh in my mind, re-jog my memory of what we were doing in class, so when I get back to school I will be up-to-date with everything. I'm sure there will be a few jokes from the boys [here], but hopefully I'll come back and ace the internals."

He says his school friends help to keep his feet on the ground, after a head-spinning 12 months, though there have been surreal moments.

"At school a few weeks ago some people were saying 'Oh yeah, what's happening with the Phoenix'. I'm part of all that so to hear that was a bit surreal ... funny to hear. But they have been supportive."

Cacace describes his last 12 months as a rollercoaster, though there have been hardy any dips. He made his A-League debut in February and has the chance to stake an early claim as part of Fritz Schmid's new All Whites regime.

"This time last year I was at the Under-17 World Cup," said Cacace. "I was lucky to get that chance with the Phoenix, but that has enabled me to put my head down and consistently playing well in the A-League has helped me develop and get this chance. It's an incredible time for me."

Cacace's calm, self assurance on the field reflects a steady but strong personality off it.

His All Whites' opportunity has arisen through the unavailability of Kip Colvey and Deklan Wynne, but it always seemed like only a matter of time. Not that Cacace is in any particular hurry.


"I'm just glad I'll have another opportunity to play in the A-League," said Cacace, who signed a new two-year deal with the struggling capital franchise last month. "I'm still 17 years old and I don't want to rush things too early and go overseas and stuff."