Young Alex Rufer hopes to keep name in lights

NEXT GENERATION: Ernie Merrick believes Alex Rufer could push for a staring spot in his rookie season.
ROSS GIBLIN/Fairfax NZ
NEXT GENERATION: Ernie Merrick believes Alex Rufer could push for a staring spot in his rookie season.

The Rufer family have never been afraid to shoot for the stars.

Shane Rufer is backing schoolboy son Alex to follow in his family's footsteps to the big time in Europe after signing a three-year professional contract with the Wellington Phoenix.

A career in football was long on the radar for the 17-year-old nephew of Oceania player of the 20th century, Wynton Rufer.

"My son has wanted to be a professional player since he was five-years-old," said Shane, a former All White who played in Europe throughout the 1980s.

"I was not surprised that Ernie Merrick could see his qualities.

"I'm not being smart or big-headed. I just know what a good standard is. We knew this would happen."

It is shaping as a massive year for Alex, who is set to represent New Zealand at the under-17 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates in October-November.

Phoenix coach Merrick believes the midfielder/striker is capable of pushing for a first-team spot in his rookie A-League season.

Shane said that could be just the start of a long and glittering career.

"He's got the ability and the potential to go a long way in the game.

"He's got to try and win the A-League with the Phoenix - that's a good short-term goal to have.

"But Alex has set himself a high bar, and that means playing in Europe and for the All Whites."

Shane said Alex had already struck up a good relationship with Phoenix star Paul Ifill and had no doubt about his attacking attributes. He had ability with both feet, and good vision, technique and goal scoring instincts. The key to playing at a higher level would be improving his defensive qualities, and staying on the straight and narrow off the park.

"He's quite fortunate in that he's grown up around professional football, in the backyard really, and he has the support of the family.

"He can play in Europe if he's got the desire and the discipline. There's a few traps along the way and he's got to be careful not to fall into them," Shane said.

Alex will commute to Wellington for training until he completes his year 13 qualifications at Palmerston North Boys' High School.

He was "over the moon" after he signed his first pro contract, and said the famous surname was both a blessing and a curse.

"Having the name, some people want to get you but then also you've got a bit of confidence with it," Alex said.

"There's a bit of pressure that rides with the name as well because people think Wynton Rufer, Shane Rufer - they were great players but what's their son or nephew going to be like? You've got to have a strong mindset and worry about your own game."

He said former Phoenix players Marco Rojas and Kosta Barbarouses had proven the A-League could be a springboard to Europe.

"Marco and Kosta are great players but I want to be better. That's the goal, to just challenge myself to the best that I can be. I have to stay level-headed but it's a great opportunity."

The Dominion Post