Ryan Thomas pays homage to humble origins

SAM WORTHINGTON
Last updated 05:00 22/05/2014
Ryan Thomas
MAARTEN HOLL/Fairfax NZ

OLD STOMPING GROUND: Young All Whites star Ryan Thomas returns to Ole Academy (Porirua), where he learnt his skills before signing to play in Holland.

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Success certainly hasn't gone to Ryan Thomas' head.

Instead of sunning himself on a Fijian beach this week, New Zealand football's latest great hope has spent his "holiday" sleeping on the humble bunk beds at Porirua's Olé Football Academy.

It is partly so the 19-year-old from Te Puke can prepare for the All Whites' May 30 friendly against South Africa in Auckland, and partly so he can give back to the football factory that gave him his professional start.

The attacking midfielder made a remarkable transition from the Central League to the Dutch Eredivisie with PEC Zwolle, capped by his two-goal heroics in a memorable 5-1 Dutch Cup final upset of giants Ajax.

But perhaps his success shouldn't come as a surprise.

Olé coach Declan Edge has mentored Thomas since he was 11 and drilled into him the need to live and breathe football.

Such is Thomas' dedication to the game, his first port of call on return from the Netherlands was to Edge and Olé, rather than going home to see family.

They came to Wellington to visit him instead.

"I've had kids come up to me here saying I'm an inspiration which is great to hear," Thomas said after scoring several stunning goals in an Olé intrasquad match last night.

"I wanted to stay fit for the game coming up and see Declan and all the boys. Some of the little players here, at 13, 14, are unreal. It's great to see kids passing the ball around like that in New Zealand."

The slightly built Thomas got his start at Zwolle thanks to Edge, who arranged a trial through former Adelaide United coach Rini Coolen, now Zwolle's youth academy director.

His first year as a professional could not have gone better.

Thomas quickly established himself in Zwolle's first-team, playing 19 games as the small-budget club finished a respectable 11th of 18 teams.

Initially signed on a one-year contract, Thomas signed an extension through to 2018 in December.

"Getting a starting spot so quickly was a big confidence boost for me. There's a lot of big players there and I'd come from Central League to that. Winning the Cup, scoring two goals, you can't really ask for more.

"But there's a lot more I want to do. By the time I'm 24, 25, I will have filled out and will be at the peak of my physical powers. I want to be playing in the best leagues in Europe; La Liga, the Bundesliga, the Premier League. And for some of the best teams as well, not just small teams."

Thomas doesn't speak with any trace of arrogance, just an assured self-belief that his work ethic and talent will take him to the top.

He made a promising All Whites debut in the 4-2 loss to Japan in March, his speed and technique shaping as a major weapon in a new wave national team that will try and qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

"It is a big step for New Zealand with me and Marco Rojas in the top leagues in Europe and not just in England, in different countries. It's going to be good to get the ball down and pass and not do the typical New Zealand thing of just standing off and trying to counter-attack."

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