New Zealand is going through a great time in football as many talented players are emerging and moving into European football like Joe Bell, Liberato Cacace, Michael Woud, Nando Pijnaker and Sarpreet Singh. In addition, this generation still has many young players that must move abroad in a few years.
Many of these players have grown up training and playing at Wellington Phoenix Academy. The work done at this academy is of the highest quality since many players who trained there became professionals.
One of Wellington Phoenix Academy’s most talented players is certainly Henry Hamilton, an 18-year-old midfielder who played FIFA U-17 World Cup last year. Hamilton talked to Oceania Football Center about his experiences as a youth player and the next steps of his career. You can check the full interview below:
You were part of the New Zealand squad that won the OFC U-16 Championship and won a spot in the FIFA U-17 World Cup that was held in Brazil. How was this experience for you – winning a tournament for your country and representing them on the world stage?
The OFC U-16 Championship was a fantastic experience where I learned a lot. Obviously, in our second game we had a hard defeat to the Solomon Islands. It took a lot of courage and belief to then go out on top against them in the final. Overall it was a dream come true to make my international debut and even win the championship with the team.
Representing your country on the world stage is the dream of all young footballers. For me, it was a goal I had set myself a long time ago when I was very young. So, for all the hard work and sacrifices to finally pay off, it was a great feeling. I was lucky to have my family travelling to the Solomon Islands for the qualifiers and to Brazil to watch my matches during the U-17 World Cup, for which I will be eternally grateful, because without them none of these dreams or goals of mine would have come true, so having them by my side when I got those goals was fantastic. Playing against Brazil in Brazil was a surreal opportunity, going toe to toe with some of the best players of our age from a country so crazy about football was an experience that I will never forget and playing in front of the Brazilian fans was amazing, the atmosphere was second to none.
How is it being your development as a player in Wellington Phoenix academy so far?
I have been with Wellington Phoenix football academy for over six years, making me the longest serving member of the academy. I first came to the academy at the age of 12 when Jess Ibrom was the head coach of the academy. I was obviously very young compared to most other players at this time, but that meant I could learn every day from players who have now gone on to do great things in their careers, such as Joe Bell, James McGarry and Calvin Harris. And a player who is the same age as me who I was very close to during his time at the academy, Eugenio Pizzuto, who recently signed a professional contract in France with Ligue 1 Lille. Eugenio and I played against each other years later during a friendly between New Zealand and Mexico before the U-17 World Cup.
After my first two years at the academy, Jess left his position as head coach and gave way to the current head coach of the academy, Paul Temple. Paul came up with a different idea of how he wanted the academy to group players by age and ability rather than all the training as one group. Since Paul arrived four years ago, I have developed immensely. Over the last two years I have gone from striker to defensive midfielder, which is a big change, but fortunately I have had great coaches like Paul and Steve Coleman to help me understand the position better. I have now had about 50 games for the reserve team, both in the Central League and the New Zealand National League. At the Phoenix academy, we all work closely with a strength and condition coach, Weiji Lim. Weiji helps us with our fitness, our work in the gym, nutrition, recovery and much more.
So far, with my time at the Phoenix Academy, I have developed a lot as a football player, but also as a person, all this thanks to the great staff we have at the Academy, who all want to get the best out of every player. I look forward to developing more and more in the near future.
You recently revealed that you will play in the United States of America. What do you expect from this move, what impact can it have on your career?
I recently announced my commitment to the University of Maryland. I talked to many different coaches and programs from there that were all great programs but after talking to Sasho Cirovski (The head coach at Maryland) it was obvious to me and my family that Maryland would be the best place for me to call home. Different programs promised me a lot by saying that I would start every game for them, which made it tempting to choose those programs, but Sasho and the Maryland people were very honest and said that I would have to work for my place on the team every week.
The standard Sasho seems to have for all his players seems to be very high, which is another reason why I felt that Maryland would be the best for me. Maryland has a fantastic programme with a lot of history, including four National Championships, the latest coming in 2018. I feel that this move to Maryland is the right step in terms of my career as it gives me the opportunity to continue pursuing my dreams of professional football as well as continuing my education. Many professionals left the programme in Maryland, which gives me great conviction and dedication to add my name to that list of players.
I am also very excited to be in a team with Jacen Russel-Rowe who represented Canada during the U-17 World Cup, we played against Canada in our last group game, so it is very exciting to be in a team with a top player like Jacen for the future. I am very excited about my future at the University of Maryland. I plan to go there in January 2021.
Henry is not the first player to leave New Zealand to play in the United States of America as dozens of Kiwis are currently playing in the NCAA Division I Men’s Soccer – the major university football league in the country. Last year, New Zealand international Joe Bell reached the NCAA’s final with Virginia Cavaliers. His good performances helped him to join Viking FK, a professional club from Norway
Oceania Football Center would like to thank Henry for sharing his experiences in football. We wish him good luck in his journey to become a professional football player.