In New Zealand football there are no richer bloodlines than that of the Rufer clan. Wynton Rufer was of course a richly gifted forward who - in part due to his ground-breaking stint in the German Bundesliga - was named Oceania’s Player of the Century. His older brother Shane also represented New Zealand and played in Switzerland for a decade in an era when few Kiwis plied their trade in Europe.
Now Shane’s son, Alex, is carrying the family flag-bearer and hoping to be a central figure in the next milestone event on New Zealand soil – the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup. The 24-nation competition will be the biggest football tournament to take place in New Zealand, and follows in the wake of U-17 World Cups for men and women held in 1999 and 2008 respectively.
Impetus for local game
Football New Zealand has been boosted in recent years via the national team's historic qualification for the 2010 FIFA World Cup™, and the success of A-League club Wellington Phoenix, where midfielder Alex plies his trade. But how much impact could next year’s tournament have on New Zealand football? “It could help New Zealand massively,” Rufer told FIFA.com. “It could have a big impact on football round the country, make the game more popular and generally lift the game in New Zealand.
“I’m thinking about it a lot. It will be a great opportunity to play against some great names, and hopefully we do well on home soil. I’m looking to get as much game time as I can under my belt as possible in the meantime, and to be the best I can be every day.”
Rufer has already a taste of things to come after participating in the 2013 FIFA U-17 World Cup in United Arab Emirates, and he liked what he saw. “It was a great experience,” he says despite three defeats in the group stage. “To play against Italy, Ivory Coast and Uruguay and some top players from those countries. It was a little bit of an eye-opener and gave us the chance to see where we are at in comparison to some of the big countries."
Rufer, though, is optimistic that next year’s U-20 World Cup will be a very different on-field experience compared to UAE 2013, when New Zealand lost all three of their matches. “How good is it when you play in front of your home fans,” says Rufer rhetorically. “It is almost like playing with an extra player, and gives you that extra drive to do well for not only yourself and for them, but also for New Zealand. I really do think that we can do well. Being on home soil it could really lift the boys a little bit extra and we can do better than we did in the U-17s.”
Life with a round ball
Rufer has, perhaps unsurprisingly, played football since he was four years old. It was never going to be any other way. “It is what I always wanted to do,” says Rufer. “Of course your father is already someone you look up to, but having him to look up to through football is perfect. I have learnt off him since the day I started, and obviously Wynton as well. They have been mentoring me and I guess it has paid off.”
Alex, however, has forged his own path as a creative force in the middle of the park in contrast to his goalscoring uncle and tough-tackling father. Dad Shane is always handy for advice, a fact that Alex appreciates. “After most games we normally have a chat about how I’m doing, and what I can improve on,” he says. “I get good feedback and obviously it is good for me to develop my game.”