All the action as the Wellington Phoenix visited Sydney FC in the A-League.
A phone call from coach Mark Rudan — and a snap decision to fly halfway around the world — has changed the course of Alex Rufer's footballing destiny.
Of all the storylines around the Wellington Phoenix this season, the resurrection of Alex Arthur Rufer has been one of the most remarkable.
Rufer is one of the most improved players in the A-League, becoming a midfield mainstay in a team that has stunned the competition.
He has found his niche in the centre of the park, now one of the first names on the team sheet.
That looked an unlikely scenario at the end of last season. Rufer didn't start a game from January onwards, and accumulated only 63 minutes of game time across the last 16 rounds. It had been even tougher in the 2016/17 season, when he didn't start a single match, and in total only got 48 minutes off the bench.
After five seasons, and off contract, you couldn't blame the All White for following his dream elsewhere. Rufer jetted off to Switzerland, and was six weeks into a trial period with FC Zurich, when Rudan got in contact. The Australian didn't make any promises, but simply offered the 22-year-old an opportunity.
"It was looking quite positive [in Switzerland] but I felt it was going to be difficult for me to sign a contract and then play regularly," said Rufer. "When I got the call from Mark inviting me to come back I didn't hesitate. I thought, what an opportunity to really show him that I am good enough. But my mentality was not just to come back and sign; my mentality was to come back and be a starting XI player."
Rufer is one of a group of young Kiwis who have impressed this year, putting the Phoenix on course for just their second finals appearance in seven seasons.
"Now it is important that we push for higher things," said Rufer, who will be a key man against Sydney FC tonight. "We are in the top six but we want to be in the top four. We are not content with just a finals berth. It shows that the environment, the culture and mentality at the club has changed massively."