11 Jun 2024

NZ football's time to shine

From The Detail, 5:00 am on 11 June 2024

The 21 year old Wellington Phoenix goalie heading to the UK's Premier League is by no means the only rising football star from New Zealand

Phoenix Goal Keeper Alex Paulsen makes a penalty save for the Wellington Phoenix.

Phoenix Goal Keeper Alex Paulsen makes a penalty save for the Wellington Phoenix. Photo: Photosport / Marty Melville

The biggest news in New Zealand football so far this year is Wellington Phoenix goalkeeper Alex Paulsen signing with English Premier League club Bournemouth.

But he's just the crest of a wave of news about our players exceeding on the world stage. 

Nearly a year after our nation co-hosted the FIFA Women's World Cup, it's not just the women who've reached higher - our men are making themselves known around the globe.

They include Chris Wood, Liberato Cacace, Matt Garbett, Marko Stamenić, and Ben Waine.

On today's episode of The Detail, Jason Pine - host of Newstalk ZB's Weekend Sport and a Sky Sport football commentator - takes us through the big names and whether they have any chance of elevating our relatively poor football record.

"A year ago, if you asked 'who is Alex Paulsen?', even dyed-in-the-wool football fans probably would've scratched their heads," Pine says.

"In the [Phoenix] season just past, their best ever season in their 17 year history, he was a big part of their run all the way to within one game of the grand final. He had the highest save percentage in the entire A-League across all 12 teams... basically [he] had a season to dream of in goal for the Wellington Phoenix.

"What that's done is turned a lot of heads, including some in the premier league in the UK. Bournemouth FC - not a big club...but a proper premier league club, have come in and have basically bought Alex Paulsen from Wellington Phoenix, for a fee of around $2 million."

The structure of the deal is complex and largely confidential but if Paulsen gets useful game time, the benefit to the Nix could double. 

Pine also talks about the prospects for the All Whites with all these good young players available, and the ups-and-downs of the women's teams.

"It's been a bit of a challenging time for the Football Ferns," he says. 

"Leading into the World Cup and off the back of the World Cup, they had that wonderful night at Eden Park where they beat Norway in the opening game - Hannah Wilkinson's goal - a seminal moment in New Zealand sport... but apart from that it's been pretty slim pickings.

"They're off to the Olympics as well but they're in a very tough group... something needs to change there for there to be an upswing in fortunes in that team."

But the game is strengthening in New Zealand as well with a second A League team, Auckland, kicking off this season, and Pine says the outlook for football here looks positive. 

"It's become a very popular choice for young boys and girls and the development of our young players has improved as a result," Pine says.

"There are more and more clubs and academies around the country taking it seriously now.

"I'm not saying it's football's time and I don't think football should ever pretend that it's going to usurp rugby or rugby league to win the hearts and minds of Kiwi sports fans - but it's certainly a genuine option for youngsters and the results are starting to catch people's eyes."

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