New Zealand football academy moves north

TONY SMITH
Last updated 05:00 03/12/2013

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A leading football academy that has produced two All Whites in its four-year existence will move from Canterbury to Wellington early next year to link with the Wellington Phoenix A-League club.

The Asia Pacific Football Academy, which has been preparing players for professional careers while continuing their secondary school careers, has been based at Lincoln since 2009. It has forged links with English premier club Chelsea after an early association with Everton.

Young All Whites Bill Tuiloma and Cameron Howieson, both 18, are APFA alumni.

APFA has offered free, fulltime residential football academy tuition for players aged 13 to 17. Based at a former golf driving range next to Lincoln University, the academy developed state-of-the-art facilities and worked closely with the university and Lincoln High School, its main educational partner.

Five APFA graduates have scored professional contracts - Tuiloma is in top French club Olympique Marseille's youth team, Howieson is with English second-tier Championship frontrunners Burnley, Birhanu Taye, an Ethiopian refugee who migrated to Wellington, is at Portugese club SC Braga, New Zealand under-17 World Cup midfielder Alex Rufer is with the Wellington Phoenix and a New Caledonian player is also playing in Europe.

APFA managing director Andy Smith said the academy - funded by private investors - has sent 15 players to professional clubs' academies and another 10 had secured football scholarships to United States universities.

"In four years, that's phenomenal."

Smith said APFA had forged some strong links at Lincoln but it made sense to "move the fulltime programme to Wellington" because of the Phoenix partnership.

"It's a very good opportunity to create a genuine pathway to professional football through the Phoenix."

He said APFA was "very player-focused" and the Phoenix were the obvious option for players with New Zealand passports.

Smith said it was "unfortunate" for Christchurch, but a Wellington base was a "great opportunity" because the capital had a professional club that has a first XI playing in a good league and the Phoenix, spearheaded by new coach Ernie Merrick, were committed to developing young players.

Smith will stay in Christchurch but will travel to Wellington when required, but the academy's technical staff, including head coach Giovani Fernandes and high-performance coach Jess Ibrom, will be on the move.

APFA has also partnered with the Oceania Football Confederation and is developing youth academies in Pacific Island nations. Smith also believes there are potential future opportunities in Europe, Asia and the United States.

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APFA concentrates on technical development with players receiving "multi-position" training to boost their chances of playing professionally. The academy extensively uses video analysis technology.

Former All White and Switzerland first division professional Shane Rufer - whose son Alex spent two years at APFA - told The Press in 2011 that the academy was "the best thing for developing footballers that's ever existed in this country".

Smith, a Briton who came to New Zealand in 2004 and worked for 20 years in the international private equity and venture capital industry, is proud of APFA's success rate, including its two All Whites.

He said Tuiloma, who played in the recent World Cup playoff series against Mexico, was a "standout player", who had "just been at Arsenal" with Olympic Marseille's European Youth Champions League squad.

Wellington's Scots College will be the academy's primary educational partner and training base, but Smith said students could attend other colleges.

- Canterbury

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