Thomas leads new breed of All Whites
Ryan Thomas one of several young New Zealanders aiming to shine at Russia 2017
Thomas one of the few All Whites to play regularly in a top-flight European league
Thomas says playing against big names is ‘something you dream about as a kid’
Ryan Thomas is at the vanguard of New Zealand’s new breed of creative and technical ball-playing footballers. If New Zealand coach Anthony Hudson is any gauge, then Thomas is set for quite a career. Hudson is an unabashed fan, last year describing the 22-year-old wide midfielder as "a top footballer and a winner".
Debuting for the national team aged just 19, Thomas’s name has increasingly become a fixture in Hudson’s starting XI. A two-goal salvo from Thomas in New Zealand’s most recent 2018 FIFA World Russia™ qualifier shored up any lingering doubt about the youngster’s ability at international level. Expect the 22-year-old to see plenty of game time at next month’s FIFA Confederations Cup.
Boasting sharp dribbling skills and quick feet, Thomas is a wide player who is capable of playing either in the forward line or in midfield. New Zealand will need all their attacking personnel on song when they tackle Portugal, Mexico and hosts Russia at their first Confederations Cup for eight years.
New-look Kiwis primed It has been quite a wait for Thomas to feature on such a gilded stage. He was a wide-eyed youngster when he played for New Zealand at the 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup, but missed out by a matter of days in being eligible for the same event two years later, one that was hosted Down Under.
Hailing from the small rural town of Te Puke, the bright lights of a major FIFA tournament – not to mention facing up to swaggering megastars like Cristiano Ronaldo – must have seemed light years away just a few short years back. However Thomas, one senses, retains the kind of humility that is reflective of his background.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” Thomas told FIFA.com, when asked about the looming Confederations Cup. “The chance to play in front of big crowds and against massive teams will be a great experience for me.”
For New Zealand it will be the chance to show a wider audience their new-look side, one that has been reinvented under Hudson, the young English coach who assumed the reins in 2014. “Over the last two or three tours we have shown a great improvement, especially in the attacking style we are trying to implement,” Thomas said.
“You can expect an attacking, high-tempo game from us. The main thing is to try and enjoy the experience. A lot of our boys are playing at a good level in Europe, so we are not going to worry about the level going into the Confederations Cup. We are just going to worry about the game and sticking to our gameplan.”
The stuff of dreams At club level, Thomas plies his trade for modestly-resourced Dutch Eredivisie side PEC Zwolle. The last campaign was challenging for the club, but they eventually ensured their safety with a few matches to spare.
Despite his tender years, he has now racked up over 100 top-flight league games in a strong European league. It is a feat only a handful of New Zealanders have achieved. Thomas enjoyed plenty of game time recently, and next season will be under the auspices of former Netherlands international and recent Melbourne City coach, John van’t Schip.
“For sure ,” Thomas said, when asked to compare his game now compared to when he played for Waikato FC in New Zealand’s national league. “I have a grown a lot in the three years since I have been at PEC. I have moved on in those three years quite dramatically really.”
For now though, this young man’s attention is firmly fixed on Russia 2017 and the rare opportunity to rub shoulders with some of world football’s elite.
“You obviously dream about this kind of thing growing up,” said Thomas. “You see the likes of Ronaldo and these players playing in the Champions League and World Cups, and hope that one day you can be doing that. Now we have that chance, and we have to make sure we take it and play well.”