Premier league eyes Christchurch talent
A teenage graduate from a Christchurch-based football academy has scored a senior professional contract with a respected English club and attracted interest from premier league giants Liverpool and Newcastle United.
New Zealand under-17 international Cameron Howieson signed a 2 1/2-year deal with English Championship (second-tier) club Burnley this week.
The 17-year-old South Islander is already training with Burnley's first team and could make his senior debut this season.
Howieson, a skilful, goal-scoring midfielder, has starred in Burnley's run to the FA Youth Cup semifinals and has been scouted by Liverpool, Newcastle, Arsenal, Aston Villa and Leeds United among other big-name English clubs.
He has also had overtures from a Scottish FA scout about switching his international allegiance to Scotland.
He told The Press from his Burnley home yesterday that he was "over the moon to sign a pro contract" in his first year at the club.
He joined the Clarets on a scholarship after playing for the Young All Whites at the under-17 World Cup finals in Mexico last June.
Howieson has a Scottish father who lives in Christchurch and Samoan heritage on his mother's side.
He would like to play at the under-20 World Cup here in 2015 but, under Fifa rules, is also eligible for Scotland, England and Samoa.
Born in Blenheim, Howieson played all his junior football for Mosgiel after a family move to Dunedin until he was admitted to the Asia-Pacific Football Academy programme at the start of 2010.
Howieson said he was grateful to Christchurch-based coach Graham McMann, formerly on the staff at Burnley, "for bringing me to Burnley for a trial a year ago" and for the knowledge he gained from being at the academy at Lincoln for two years.
"The coaching and the setup at APFA was unbelievable ... If it wasn't for that, I don't think I would be here. I owe them a big thanks."
Howieson is expected to be part of Burnley's squad for this weekend's visit to bottom-of-the-table Portsmouth.
He has played regularly for Burnley's reserve team, whose coach, Jason Blake, raved about Howieson's performance in a 1-1 draw with Wrexham.
"Three weeks ago, [Cameron] had chicken pox and he's not played an abundance of 90-minute periods, but he has great enthusiasm for the game, a gracefulness and elegance for the way he plays," Blake told Burnley's website.
"In the second half, you've got a first-year scholar setting the example for everyone else on the pitch and showing what you need to do. That is a massive positive."
Howieson is "hopeful" of making his senior debut this season "if I keep working hard".
If he does, he could challenge All White Chris Wood's record as the youngest Kiwi debutant in top-tier English football. Wood was 17 years and four months when he made his premier league debut for West Bromwich Albion against Portsmouth in April 2009. Howieson is 17 years and three months.
While he is aware of interest from bigger clubs, Howieson is happy at Burnley, which is renowned for its youth set-up.
"They've been very good ever since I've been here ... I think it's best that I stay here."
He said he would listen to an official approach from Scotland and "think over my options".
"But I think I will always be a Kiwi no matter what happens," he said.
Howieson has an Australian team-mate, Aaron Williams, to natter about beaches and barbies.
He said it was hard being away from his family in New Zealand but the club pays for him to fly home twice a year and for his Christchurch-based father, Dave Howieson, to travel in the other direction.
Dave Howieson was in Burnley for eight days this month and was in transit when he got a call from Cameron "asking if I could come back because he'd been offered a pro contract".
The young Kiwi has been a driving force in the Burnley youth team, which was due to play arch rivals Blackburn Rovers last night for a place in the FA Youth Cup final against either Chelsea at Stamford Bridge or Manchester United at Old Trafford.