Life is about the choices we make - and Chris James can be pretty pleased with the decisions he has made so far in his footballing career. The 19-year-old, currently learning his trade with English Premiership side Fulham was an integral part of England's U-16, U-17 and U-18 line-up until a call from New Zealand coach Ricki Herbert made the midfielder change is mind.
"I was born in New Zealand, but my mother is English - my
father is a New Zealander," he told
FIFA.com. "I lived there until I was 13 and
then moved to England for family reasons. I managed to get a chance
with Fulham following a trial - and I have stayed here ever since.
I played for England's youth sides, until Ricki gave me a call
"He spoke to me about the direction that New Zealand Soccer was taking in terms of what their plans were in terms of qualification for South Africa [the 2010 FIFA World Cup™]. A couple of months later we spoke again - and that's when I made the decision to play for the country of my birth, New Zealand."
On 5 June 2006, James made his senior debut for the All Whites in a friendly against Brazil in Geneva when he came on as an 86th minute substitute for Leo Bertos. His impact on the international scene was almost instant as his left-wing cross was headed narrowly over by Tim Brown - arguably New Zealand's best chance of the match.
A debut of dreams
"I was lucky enough to get on the pitch for the last seven or eight minutes," he smiled. "I joined up with the team two or three days before the game because I had to wait for international clearance, because of my appearances for England. But to get on the pitch and be part of the team was magnificent - a debut that you could only dream about."
James made the decision not to swap shirts with one of the stars of the Seleção at the final whistle, but to keep his own shirt for himself. He did, however, wander into the Brazilian dressing room after the match to get it signed and it now takes pride of place at the midfielder's home in London.
It is somewhat ironic to think that if he had decided to remain 'English', he would not have been afforded the chances he has been given with New Zealand. Martin Hunter's England side finished bottom of their elite group for the UEFA U-19 Championship and therefore missed out on the prospect of a place at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Canada 2007. By then, James had already decided to play for New Zealand, who won the OFC's U-20 Men's Championship in January.
Now, the Fulham midfielder is setting his sights on Mexico, Portugal and Gambia in Group C of Canada 2007. "It's a very interesting draw," said James. "I actually followed it live on FIFA.com on Saturday evening and I'm really looking forward to going over there and playing. It will be a great experience. We're going to come up against a team from Central America, Europe and Africa, so there will be a great contrast in styles for us.
"Hopefully, we'll learn a lot. I'm sure we will. We're not going over there just to make up the numbers. We're going over to represent Oceania and New Zealand. We're quietly confident that we can cause an upset - and perhaps even get past the group stages. And it's a brilliant feeling to be the first side to represent New Zealand in this competition. We're extremely proud of the fact that we're going to Canada, and we're all extremely excited about it. Playing in a World Cup at any level is something special."