Turf a winner for Angel in New Zealand 

  • Juan Pablo Angel recently visited New Zealand for the FIFA Forward programme

  • FIFA Legend was on hand for the opening of the Football South artificial turf facility

  • “There is massive interest in young boys and girls to play football”

Football has ensured Juan Pablo Angel’s passport has been given a thorough workout over the years, but the former Colombian striker had a new stamp in his travel documents last weekend with a visit to New Zealand. The much-travelled free-scoring former striker was in the country in his role as a FIFA Legend and was on hand to help open a much-needed all-weather turf facility in Dunedin - provided through FIFA Forward funding.

Angel should need little introduction to football fans after a stellar career in front of goal that included representing clubs in four countries across three continents. He enjoyed hugely prolific spells at New York Red Bulls, Aston Villa and for hometown club Atletico Nacional at the start and end of his career. He was also a regular for Los Cafeteros throughout the 2002 and 2006 FIFA World Cup™ qualifying campaigns.

FIFA.com spoke with Angel about his experiences in Dunedin, the importance of turf facilities and the opportunity for growth for New Zealand football. While the south island city was home to New Zealand’s first international match, it is the national sport of rugby that often holds sway, but Angel says football has a massive grassroots base Down Under.

Juan Pablo Angel’s mission in New Zealand:

  • Officially open Football South’s artificial turf facility

  • Coach local academy players

  • Meet local football officials and dignitaries

  • Promote football through media appearances and in the local community

FIFA.com: Tell us about what you've been up to in New Zealand?

Juan Pablo Angel: Primarily it was the opening of the brand new turf facility for Football South. Everyone with an interest was represented from FIFA to the local football fraternity, local investors, the local council and local players of course. Already we could see the positive impact it had on the football community.

What did you make of this particular facility?

This is a world class facility in general. The turf itself was spectacular. They did a really good job. This particular facility has two fields. One is football specific and one is multi-sport so you can play many different kinds of sport. With turf there needs to be certain specifications in terms of length of fibre and rubber for playing football so that it allows for different sports.

Juan Pablo Angel at the opening of a new football facility in Dunedin, New Zealand (Image: Adam Binns)

What are the positives of football turf?

In this part of New Zealand there is some snow and frost so options during winter for sport are very limited. The facility means it can be used all year-round, and there are lights as well so it can be used at night.

Did you experience challenges for grassroots football in New Zealand?

New Zealand is well known for rugby and cricket but the market for football - and the people who are being impressed by football - is growing very rapidly. So this facility opens up football to have even more people involved and exposed to the sport, and that is obviously a good thing.

There are many sports played in New Zealand, did you get a sense of the challenges that brings?

Right now there are a few sports that are ahead of football. But it is like the United States where people have access to many sports but that hasn’t stopped the growth of football. So the market is there, but the challenge is to make it accessible to more people.

There is massive interest in young boys and girls to play football. So the challenge is probably in other areas. [The challenges are] in development programmes, getting television to show the sport, and for involving the private sector involved to help grow the sport. But the interest and market is definitely there for the sport to grow further.

What were your experiences in New Zealand with football and also in general?

New Zealand is a spectacular country, absolutely beautiful from top to bottom, and the people are very friendly. In terms of football, obviously it is a sport that is still developing but with the national teams doing so well in the past ten years or so, that has really helped build further interest in the game.

Juan Pablo Angel at the opening of a new football facility in Dunedin, New Zealand (Image: Adam Binns)