Luke Adams has received the perfect post-World Cup pick me up.
The 19-year-old centre-back captained New Zealand to three defeats at the under-20 World Cup in Turkey that was won by France this month.
But any lingering disappointment quickly dissipated after a week-long trial was enough for Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick to hand him a contract.
The Australian-born Adams has packed plenty into his young career.
His early years were spent in England before shifting to Auckland at five.
It didn't take long for his promise to be recognised and Adams became one of the youngest players to compete in the national league when he debuted for Waitakere United at 15.
He had two stints with Birmingham City and, after recovering from a knee reconstruction, spent a year with Derby Country in between captaining his country at under-17 and under-20 level.
"I'm an Aussie-English-New Zealander," Adams laughed.
"I'm obviously a leader, I talk quite a lot. But I don't want to boast about myself. I love being captain but I'll try and be a leader even if I'm not."
Both Merrick and national under-20 coach Chris Milicich rave about Adams' on and off-field qualities.
Milicich said he was the type of person other young players gravitated to.
But opportunities for A-League action could be scant in Wellington with senior internationals Andrew Durante, Ben Sigmund and Michael Boxall also on the books.
"I've obviously got to work hard and earn my position if I can. I like that Ernie's so honest and he tells you what you need to do to play."
There is a chance Adams could make his Phoenix debut in round one, with the All Whites expected to be absent against Brisbane Roar on October 13.
While impressed with his background, Merrick said Adams was back to square one in Wellington.
"Players sometimes come back from the big leagues in Europe and think they're a shoo-in for a first XI spot," Merrick said.
"So I was very honest with Luke and said 'you've got to fight for a place here and reputations or background mean nothing. It's got you here but to be first XI, you've really got to work hard at it now'. This is just the start of the hard yards so he understands that."
Adams is strong in the air and in the mind, having spent six months successfully rehabbing from a knee injury to earn a contract with English Championship club Derby.
"I was two days in on trial and I did my knee in. You're in the gym every day grafting and you just become a better man."
Adams said he was surprised by the standard and professionalism at the Phoenix, which, despite fewer back-up staff, was comparable to Derby.
- Fairfax Media
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