From father to son – Phoenix transforms New Zealand football

Former Kiwi great Michael McGarry says his son James is evidence of how much Wellington Phoenix has transformed football in his homeland.

Back in the day McGarry was one of New Zealand’s most talented footballers and represented his country 54 times between 1986 and 1997.

But the only way he could play professional football was by crossing the Tasman and joining Sydney Olympic.

This week the former All White watched his teenage son, James, sign his first professional contract with Wellington Phoenix.

James and Logan Rogerson, both 17-year-old graduates from the club’s academy, inked three-year deals with the A-League outfit.

“Wellington Phoenix has been great for New Zealand football,” McGarry senior said.

“Robyn and I are really chuffed that Jimmy has got a contract because he has worked hard on his football and his school work.

“It was his decision to move to Christchurch and join the APFA Academy four years ago and then go up to Wellington when he got the chance to join the Phoenix.

“It was hard for Robyn to let him go to Christchurch as a 12-year-old but he has a good head on his shoulders.

“It was the first step towards what he had always wanted, but a big step to take.”

James said his parents had backed him throughout but that the decision to leave home was his.

“I made all the decisions with the help of advice from Mum and Dad who supported me right through,” the young midfielder said.

“It was tough at times but it is all worthwhile now and I definitely made the right decision.”

Coach Ernie Merrick who said both McGarry and Rogerson had every chance of making the line-up in season 2015/16.

‘I wouldn’t sign them on a pro contract if I didn’t think they had a chance of playing in the A-League,” Merrick said.

“The last two 17-year-olds we signed (Matthew Ridenton and Alex Rufer) have played in the A-League, represented New Zealand through the age grades and appeared for the All Whites.

“The club is providing exciting, promising youngsters with the opportunity to become full-time professional footballers while not neglecting their education.”

McGarry will continue his studies at St Patrick’s College while pursuing a pro football career this season.

His first training session with the senior players is etched in his mind.

“I remember it as if it was yesterday,” he said.

“I had never seen the Phoenix players up close and I was so nervous to be training with them but it turned into an amazing experience.”

The rookie surprised Merrick during that first training session by shouting instructions to the senior players.

“It wasn’t only his skills that impressed me but his confidence,” Merrick said.

“A lot of youngsters have really good skills but can’t break into the senior squad because of a lack of confidence.

“Senior pros don’t mind being told to close down by younger players providing it is good information and James’ information was.

“His skills were a standout. He is quick and good physically as well as technically but the real difference was his confidence.”

Merrick is just as enthusiastic about Rogerson’s future. The promising attacker has already debuted for the All Whites during their draw Myanmar this week.

“Logan has the skills to go a long way in the game and he is a well-built young man with terrific stamina,” the coach said.

“He hasn’t been with us as long as James has but he made an immediate impact and is improving all the time.”

Rogerson has a very different sporting heritage – his father played rugby league.

“My mum and dad (Michael and Mapera) are very proud of me and it is because of their support that I have gotten this far,” Rogerson said.

“It was hard to comprehend what was happening when I was offered the contract.

“I was certainly thrilled to be given such a massive opportunity at such a young age.

“Becoming a professional is a dream come true and I am truly grateful for the opportunity.

“When I first arrived at the Phoenix it was very hard to take everything in. I was quite overwhelmed to be training alongside players I had been watching on television.

“Training alongside them has already helped me grow as a player and will continue to help me develop both as a player and person.”