16 Apr 2024

16-year-old gets fulltime Phoenix contract

12:33 pm on 16 April 2024
Gabriel Sloane-Rodrigues, right, playing for New Zealand U-17 against New Caledonia in 2003.

Gabriel Sloane-Rodrigues, right, playing for New Zealand U-17 against New Caledonia in 2003. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The youngest Wellington Phoenix player to debut in the men's A-League has signed on for the club's first team at just 16 years of age.

Gabriel Sloane-Rodrigues, who has represented New Zealand at under-17 level, made his debut for the Phoenix when he came on as a late substitute in their 1-0 loss to Melbourne City last month.

Now three months before his 17th birthday, he is joining the first team on a three-year contract.

"It's been a big dream of mine since I joined the academy," Sloane-Rodrigues said. "I didn't think it would come this quickly.

"I'm obviously over the moon about it."

Sloane-Rodrigues shifted to Wellington to join the Phoenix academy when he was just 14. He had played junior football with East Coast Bays AFC and Auckland United FC, before moving to the capital with his mum, Donna.

"She's played a massive role in my football and I'm really grateful to have her here with me.

"My mum takes me to all my trainings and games, buys me boots and new gear, and feeds me every day.

"She could have just told me I could board, but she's made some sacrifices herself to help me with my football journey so I really appreciate her."

Sloane-Rodrigues will become the seventh player to graduate from the academy into the first team since Giancarlo Italiano took over as head coach.

Wellington player Kosta Barbarouses and team celebrate his goal during the Wellington Phoenix v Sydney FC A-League match.

Phoenix players celebrate their progress in the 2023-24 season. Photo: photosport

Sloane-Rodrigues started training with the first team during the pre-season after Italiano spotted him playing for the Phoenix thirds.

"I felt as though he had a little bit of x-factor about him," Italiano said. "He was doing things different to what the other players were.

"He was taking on players, dribbling, switching the ball on the run and I just felt like he had a point of difference, and I liked it.

"When he first came into training he showed the same thing which I saw in the game so that gave me a lot of confidence."

Italiano believes the step up to professional football will be "a big jump" for Sloane-Rodrigues but he has the "potential to be a real point of difference for us".

"He needs time, but after two years in this environment he'll be flying.

"I would like to see him build game time next season…a bit like how Oskar van Hattum has progressed this season. I see that sort of trajectory for him."

The Phoenix guaranteed themselves a top-two finish in the A-League for the first time with a 1-0 win over their nearest rivals Melbourne Victory on Friday night. They play Newcastle Jets on Friday night with a chance of winning the minor premiership.

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