Alex Rufer believes the Wellington Phoenix can push for the A League title in the coming years, which helped him commit his future to the club.
Rufer signed a three-year deal earlier this week, one of four players recently re-signed by the capital franchise.
The All Whites midfielder was never likely to leave — he has been talked about as a future Phoenix captain — but the trajectory of the last few months made the decision much easier.
"I can see us winning something here in a few years so that was a big reason why I decided to stay," Rufer told the Herald.
"Without getting too far ahead of ourselves, I think with how things are going we will come close to pushing for a title and being consistent contenders in the top six and top four."
Rufer's bold assertion reflects the current vibe around Phoenix headquarters.
After being completely written off heading into this season (some Australian pundits tipped them for the wooden spoon), they are currently on a seven-match unbeaten streak and are building momentum nicely.
Their possession-based game looks superior to the "smash and grab" approach under Mark Rudan last season, especially against the stronger A-League teams, and they also seem to have more depth, despite the high player turnover in the off season.
Before he was injured four weeks ago at Eden Park against the Wanderers, the 23-year-old had been tracking well, and his status as vice-captain shows the esteem in which he is held.
It's a far cry from his early years in Wellington, when he struggled to make an impression.
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The nadir came in the 2016/17 season, when he started the first game, but only made two substitute appearances (a total of five minutes) for the rest of that campaign, and most weeks couldn't even make the bench.
"It's been a bit of a rollercoaster here for me for a few years but I've always been really positive and loved the challenge," Rufer said.
"Over the years I have evolved and grown and matured as a player. The first few years were quite tough, and I got a bad injury. Those things can affect you and stop you from improving for a while. [But] all the things I have been through here have made me better as a person and a player and I've learned more than I could have anywhere else. Different coaches have different opinions, that's the ups and downs of football."
After starting his career as a striker, following in the path of his uncle Wynton, Rufer has transitioned into a reliable holding midfielder, though he wants to add more offensive punch to his game.
"Everyone knows the one stat that I haven't got yet and that's goals," said Rufer, who has made 56 appearances for the Phoenix. "But I don't put pressure on myself too much — I am a defensive midfielder. But if I can add some goals, which I know I have in my game, that would help the team."
The modern game places a huge emphasis on transition moments, and Rufer needs to be behind the ball when possession is lost, but coach Ufuk Talay has encouraged him to look for opportunities.
"I've been taking more risks, shooting more," said Rufer. "Probably been a bit unlucky not to score this season."
Talay is an unabashed admirer.
"Alex had an excellent season last year and he will grow, he's still young," Talay said.
"He's our vice captain and long term he has signed a three-year deal so he is going to be a massively influential player at this club."
Rufer is a only 50-50 prospect for today's game against the Central Coast Mariners, as the club take a cautious approach with the knee strain (MCL) he suffered against the Wanderers.
However, former Celtic and Norwich striker Gary Hooper is a chance for his first start, after a series of stints off the bench.
The Phoenix will be warm favourites against a struggling Mariners team, but Rufer says the attitude won't change.
"As a team we won't take them lightly," Rufer said.
"They are a lot better than in previous years and they have shown that they can play some decent football so we need to make sure we come with the right mentality and attitude."