Regardless of what happens on the field, New Zealand representatives WYNRS will make history when they step onto the field at next month’s Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup 2013 in Zurich. The New Zealanders will be the first Oceania representatives at the famed youth tournament which this year is enjoying its 75th anniversary.
Adding a further layer of intrigue is that the WYNRS team will be overseen by former long-serving FC Zurich forward Wynton Rufer. The Oceania Player of the Century has dedicated the past 15 years to the establishment and ongoing management of the WYNRS academy. And now Rufer has the opportunity to bring his young charges to the other side of the world to face some of game’s elite clubs.
Preparing future stars
With a strong focus on skills development, the WYNRS academy was set up by Rufer with the aim of providing a building block for players to prepare for a professional career. WYNRS, which is an acronym for Wynton Rufer Soccer and is pronounced ‘Winners’, was indirectly established as a result of New Zealand hosting the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 1999. Primarily based in New Zealand’s largest metropolis, Auckland, the academy now also operates in Wellington, Christchurch, Hawkes Bay and Dunedin.
“The establishment of the academy goes back 15 years to when FIFA awarded the U-17 tournament hosting to New Zealand, thus I decided to establish the programme,” Rufer told FIFA.com. “I knew it could be a springboard for the tournament.”
WYNRS has since had a role in producing a host of talented New Zealand youngsters, including 2010 FIFA World Cup™ forward Chris Wood, Melbourne Victory starlet Marco Rojas and newly-capped All Whites midfielder Cameron Lindsay. Two key players in a tournament for players born 1993 or later, will be Tyler Boyd and Louis Fenton, both of whom feature for Wellington Phoenix – the nation’s only professional club – and also members of the national team which last week qualified for the FIFA U-20 World Cup Turkey 2013. Other key names include goalkeeper Liam Anderson, defender Reece Lambert and midfielder James Debenham, all of whom featured at the 2011 FIFA U-17 World Cup, while Papua New Guinea U-20 representative Alwin Komolong will add some Melanesian flavour.
The young Kiwis will face a massive challenge over two intense days of competition on 8-9 May. Among the ten competing teams are Manchester United, Borussia Dortmund, Botafogo, Basel and defending champions FC Zurich.
“It will be a fantastic experience taking on some of the great names in world football,” said Rufer. “It will be a real struggle for us though with not many players born in 1993 and we don’t often get to play together. On the positive side, up to ten of the boys have been overseas before with WYNRS.”
A kind of homecoming
With a Swiss-father, Rufer’s return will make for a homecoming in more ways than one. Rufer spent seven years playing top-flight football in Switzerland during the 1980s, turning out in the colours of FC Zurich, Aarau and Grasshopper Zurich. Rufer, along with older brother Shane who also enjoyed a successful career in Switzerland were pioneers of sorts for New Zealand football paving the way for future players to make the jump to European football. Rufer went on to star at Werder Bremen for six seasons winning the UEFA Cup Winners Cup, and remains the only New Zealander to claim European silverware. On the international stage Rufer netted the winner in a decisive play-off against China PR, which propelled New Zealand to their historic FIFA World Cup appearance in 1982.
Though a regular visitor to Switzerland, Rufer is understandably looking forward to next month’s trip with relish. “I recall the tournament from when I played at Zurich and it is very famous in Switzerland. I vividly remember the tournament being played at our fields and watching the action.
“When I played in Switzerland in the 1980s the development systems were outstanding, better than Germany at the time, where everything was based around the seniors. Switzerland is as good as anywhere in Europe. It will be a phenomenal experience.”