When Wellington Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick first set eyes on striker Hamish Watson he told him if he lost 10kg he might have a chance of earning a professional contract.
Watson, 20, took the advice to heart, lost 11kg and today, on the last day of the transfer window, all the hard work paid off as he signed a contract for the rest of the Hyundai A-League season.
To say it was a shock to the young striker is an understatement - he burst into tears when Phoenix Football Operations Manager Shaun Gill called him with the news.
“My Dad Stu had just got home and when I got off the phone we were both jumping up and down round the kitchen,” Watson said. “It came right out of the blue and I didn’t even know it was the last day of the window.
“I still can’t believe it. When I joined the Phoenix Football School of Excellence, my dream was to get a contract, and when it didn’t happen at the start of the season I thought that might be my chance gone.
“I can’t thank Ernie enough. It is all down to him that I am now as fit as I am. When he told me to lose 10kg, I suggested five. He said okay, then lose another five!
“Thinking back, what was I doing playing football at 101kg? Now I’m down to 90kg I feel so much better and am more mobile, fitter and stronger.”
Watson joined Lower Hutt City as a four-year-old and has been with the club ever since until he joined the Phoenix Football School of Excellence, playing for Team Wellington.
Merrick said Watson’s attitude had been terrific from the moment he first set foot in the Phoenix training base at Newtown Park.
“Hamish worked really hard to get his weight down and you have to give him credit. He kept at it when it would have been easy to give up,” Merrick said.
“He played well and scored goals for us in pre-season, including scoring a cracker against Sydney FC and setting up another in the same game. At Team Wellington he has been going well and came off the bench last week to score two goals in 12 minutes.”
Merrick said the surprise move in the last hours of the transfer window was the need for cover for the strikers.
“We have wide players in Kenny Cunningham, Roy Krishna and Tyler Boyd, but needed cover for our central high strikers Jeremy Brockie and Stein Huysegems,” he said.
“We had a scare with Stein’s calf last week and if one of the two strikers got injured we would have been a bit bare.”