Former Canterbury United and Otago midfielder Stuart Kelly is joining Auckland City in the national league and is also eyeing a later move to Thailand.
The 29-year-old former Glasgow Rangers junior was due to leave today for Auckland to sign a contract for the 2010-11 ASB Premiership season.
"I've also agreed in principle to play in the Thailand premier league next year for a club in the north-east of the country. At this stage of my career, I'm keen to play in other places and experience other countries and cultures while I can."
Kelly said the chance to play in the Oceania Confederation's O-League was a huge lure. Auckland City and national league champions Waitakere are New Zealand's perennial representatives in the O-League and both have represented the region at the World Club Cup finals.
"I like the South Island, but the O-League is a big attraction," Kelly said. "It's one of the reasons I came here, that and also the World Club Cup finals."
Auckland will travel to Tahiti and New Caledonia on O-League duty.
A former professional at Scottish third division club East Stirling, Kelly has come close to playing O-League football twice before.
He scored two goals for Canterbury in the 2005-06 New Zealand Football Championship grand final but the Dragons lost to Auckland City on penalties.
"I was going to go to Waitakere a few seasons ago but I broke my leg in Australia. I've come close to the O-League before but I've never done it."
Kelly, who represented Scotland at age-group international level, said Auckland City had been the most successful team in the national league since the advent of the eight-team franchise competition and he liked the setup chairman Ivan Vuksich had created there.
"We start pre-season next week, eight weeks before the start of the season and we've got four games, including the Papua New Guinea team [Hekari United] that's qualified for the Club World Cup and Hadjuk Split's under-21 team, which has come about through the club's Croatian link-up."
He expects to play in midfield alongside All Whites World Cup squad member and former Wellington Phoenix pro David Mulligan.
Kelly came to Christchurch in 2004 to play for Woolston Technical and Canterbury United. He was with the Dragons for four campaigns but commuted to play for Otago United for the last two national league seasons.
He is likely to return later to Christchurch, where he runs a coaching school for children aged between five and 12.
- © Fairfax NZ News