If as an 18-year-old you have already appeared at two FIFA tournaments, played in your country’s 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ qualifiers and are also currently participating at the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament in London, you are clearly an extraordinary talent. That is precisely why New Zealand are so proud to call Tim Payne one of their own. The young All Whites' midfielder looks set to have a golden future.
In the last few days Payne has proven that he is able to shoulder responsibility even at this early stage in his career. He has done so with an impressive calmness as well as a healthy portion of self-confidence. In his country’s opening game against Belarus at London 2012, the Blackburn Rovers player may not have been able to prevent a 1-0 defeat, but he was a vital, stabilising link between the midfield and defence. “It’s unbelievable how comfortable Tim is for us in a position with such responsibility at such a major tournament,” New Zealand’s Olympic coach Neil Emblem told FIFA.com. “I have no doubt that he’ll find his way.”
More than just a fighter
It is not only his running ability, but also his technical aptitude and reading of the game that give Payne such promise. Full of dynamism on the pitch, Payne is more reserved away from the action, paying little heed to the increasing attention he is drawing. “For me the expectations about my future aren’t a form of pressure,” he said in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com. “Quite the opposite. Every time I play for my country it’s a huge honour.”
It is a mutual sentiment, as New Zealand’s hopes for the future are tied up with the youngster. After the All Whites departed the 2010 FIFA World Cup undefeated following three draws in the group phase, there is a tangible desire to further establish themselves on the global stage. In order to do so, Payne is aware that his country’s customary fighting spirit alone will not suffice. “You look at the players in the English Premier League and it's clear that today it’s not enough just to be physically strong,” said Payne. “Nowadays you have to let the ball do the work, so of course that goes for us too.”
Payne is on course to become the poster boy for the next generation of New Zealand players. He has undoubtedly benefitted from pitting himself against the world’s best in two global competitions. The midfielder participated at both the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2011 in Mexico and the FIFA U-20 World Cup 2011 in Colombia. “Every time you play at a major international tournament it makes you proud to represent your country,” Payne said. “On top of that you always play against the best players in the world, and I pick up things from them. They make you a better player.”
At the Olympics Payne will be keeping an eye on his idol Ryan Giggs of Team GB. However, he is not in London merely to further his footballing education. On Sunday the pressure is on in New Zealand's Group C game against Egypt. “They’re technically very good, they pass the ball superbly and are really comfortable in possession,” Payne added. “But we still hope we’ll manage to score against them. We stick together and are a very tight-knit group - typical Kiwi style. We’re the underdogs and that’s the way we like it.”
Yet that could all soon change. The Auckland native is convinced that in the future increasing numbers of his compatriots will play in the top European leagues. “We’re on the right track and are making a name for ourselves. Our aim is for the next generation in New Zealand to bring the ball out from the back with more of a focus on possession.”
Payne’s dream is to play at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, but for the moment he is concentrating on the task at hand. “Right now we’re at the Olympics. I’m not thinking about anything else other than showing what we can do here,” said the teenager, once again demonstrating off the field, just as on it, a maturity beyond his years.