Aaron Clapham should be playing pro – Devine

TONY SMITH
Last updated 05:00 11/01/2014

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Former English professional footballer Sean Devine is "baffled" why Canterbury United star Aaron Clapham isn't playing in the A-League.

Clapham - widely regarded as one of the best players in the New Zealand national league - was rumoured to be in the Wellington Phoenix's sights after a season-ending injury to forward Paul Ifill.

But Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick opted to sign Auckland City's Fijian international striker Roy Krishna, leaving Clapham - puzzlingly overlooked by Merrick's predecessor Ricki Herbert - still in A-League limbo.

It has become increasingly hard for New Zealand players to sign for other A-League clubs because, since Australia's defection to the Asian Football Confederation, Oceania players are treated as foreigners under A-League import rules.

Most A-League clubs prefer to fill their import quota with European or South American players.

Devine, who is now Canterbury United's assistant-coach, played in the A-League for the Phoenix's forerunners, the New Zealand Knights, and remains a keen student of the competition. The former striker also had a long career in the lower divisions of England's Football League with Barnet, Wycombe Wanderers and Exeter City.

Devine is pleased on one hand that Clapham will remain with Canterbury for the rest of the national premiership campaign, but is disappointed that a professional club has not snapped up the All White.

"I definitely think Aaron's good enough for the A-League and I'm really surprised that no-one has signed him up yet.

"But it's never too late, he's still only 26; he can definitely kick on.

"But it baffles me that he's been overlooked. He's playing in a decent league and he wants to be the best he can be at that level."

Devine believed Clapham was a better player than most of the Phoenix's midfield options and felt he "needs someone to be pushing him" to professional clubs.

"We don't want to do that too much because obviously we don't want to lose him. But he's good enough to be playing in a higher league."

Canterbury struggled in the first two rounds without Clapham, losing to WaiBop United 2-1 and drawing 2-2 with Wanderers SC while Clapham was on World Cup duty. But Canterbury have steadily risen up the table since the return of their playmaker, who turns 27 on Wednesday. Clapham is joint top scorer in the league with five goals, averaging one per game.

"Azza's one of those boys who will get you goals," Devine said. "He's definitely a player that we respect and he's got the boys' respect as well."

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Devine said Clapham was skilful and had a high work rate and just loves the game. "If we can all get to that benchmark we will do well for the rest of the season."

Devine is, naturally, not disappointed to see Krishna leave Oceania Champions Auckland City, who he still regards as the national league's benchmark team. But he said Auckland had sufficient depth to cover the Fijian forward's loss, including Krishna's former Waitakere United team-mate Ryan de Vries.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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