Evergreen Auckland City striker Grant Young has enjoyed a career renaissance since emigrating from his native South Africa five years ago, racking up impressive goal scoring records in the New Zealand Football Championship (NZFC) where he is the second top scorer behind team-mate and compatriot Keryn Jordan.
The pair have struck a combined tally of 115 goals at just under a goal every game, with Young’s tally of 112 appearances also a league record. With several NZFC titles and last season’s OFC O-League title added to his long list of achievements, the 38-year-old Young is adamant that City are well prepared under the tutelage of coach Paul Posa for their tilt at the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2009.
“This year we’re better prepared having learnt from the last experience in 2006,” stated Young, referring to the New Zealand club’s disjointed preparation three years ago at their last FIFA Club World Cup appearance. “Back then we had just two or three weeks to rebuild our squad and our morale after the departure of the coach. Now we’ve got continuity which is important ahead of such a big challenge. Paul has been with us for about a year and because of that our training is of a much higher intensity and we should be positive of achieving a high standard in the UAE.
As one of the squad’s elder statesmen, Young’s experience of professional football will be valuable for the amateur club as they seek to overcome professional opponents. Suggestions that Auckland City’s squad is too old for the task at hand is strongly refuted by the straight-talking striker who believes the Oceania champions have a good balance. “Players like Ki-Hyung Lee and Ivan Vicelich bring a lot of experience and leadership – technically we’re a lot better than we’ve ever been and we’re fitter as well.”
“Our coaching team is very professional in how they approach preparation - we’ve got a solid structure, set game plans and our tempo is much higher. The squad has got older players in it but when you look at how younger players like Alex Feneridis and Adam McGeorge have broken through and earned regular starts with the first team then you see the balance in the squad,” Young says.
The specificities of first-up UAE opponents Al Ahli are somewhat of an unknown to Young and his team-mates but the South African insists that Auckland City have built strong relationships in the Middle East and can also draw on the experience of last year’s friendly match with Kuwait in Auckland. “I think if you gauge the style of Kuwait and how they played then I think it’s going to be a lot more technical, they may have one or two physical players, but if they play like their national team then we will expect them to be technically very gifted,” he states. “That will mean we will have to have more of a thinking game.”
Young believes that Auckland City has a role to play in an upturn in football fortunes for the game at all levels – with New Zealand qualifying for South Africa 2010 and the ‘Young All Whites’ reaching the knockout stage at the 2009 FIFA U-17 World Cup in Nigeria last month, there is a prevailing mood of optimism that Auckland City can add to the Kiwi feel good factor in Abu Dhabi. The club was featured when New Zealand created history in overcoming Bahrain to qualify for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, with captain Vicelich a key part of the All Whites defence as Bahrain were kept at bay, while goalkeeper Jacob Spoonley remained on the bench.
Young, meanwhile, sees the FIFA Club World Cup campaign as his opportunity to express himself: “My main target is to just see if I can win a starting slot in the team. I love the big stage and want to prove I can still play at that level. There is a real buzz with football on a high in New Zealand and a few of our players involved with the national team, so its natural for us to want them to do well and then do well ourselves.”