The Kiwi coach leading the All Whites to the World Cup finals is kicking off a new elite soccer academy in Queenstown.
Ricki Herbert (right), coach of both the national side and Wellington Phoenix, aims to attract about 500 kids aged nine to 12 for an annual series of four-day training courses in the resort starting early next year.
The 82 Football Academy is Herbert’s brainchild – and he wants to give a boost to Queenstown tourism as well as raise soccer standards throughout New Zealand.
He’ll co-own the venture with former Aussie soccer pro Richard Johnson and has named the school of excellence after the only year in which the NZ team qualified for the World Cup.
A star player of that 1982 campaign, Herbert is about to take the All Whites to Bahrain for the first leg of their World Cup playoff series.
He’s had the academy in mind for years but only recently settled on Queenstown.
“I think it’s a fantastic place. It’s an incredibly well-known destination, the features it offers, the resources there, are world-class,” Herbert enthuses.
“We wanted to do something that was a little bit different than maybe what people would expect.”
The idea to headquarter the school here crystallised when Herbert’s Phoenix played Melbourne Victory in a pre-season match over Winter Festival.
Herbert’s school for soccer is already under way with programmes in Christchurch and Wellington this week and next, but the academy formally launches with two courses at Jack’s Point in January.
Herbert’s also tapped four Wakatipu business people for extra grunt. Soccer-mad Peter Waters from Lake Hayes and Arrowtowner Sharon Evans are the venture’s business managers.
Patrons are Millbrook-based Telecom chairman Wayne Boyd and company director Richard Smith of Lake Hayes.
Waters estimates they’ll train about 2000 kids throughout NZ next year, with about 500 coming to Queenstown for 10 four-day courses in school holidays.
The courses will cost about $400 including academy playing kit.
Waters also reckons the Wakatipu will benefit because those 500 kids will bring parents and siblings.
“The key word is excellence,” he says. “We’re not trying to make money out of the kids but it’s got to be self-funding.”
By 2010, Waters hopes the academy can also have a residential component where students train for up to a year while attending Wakatipu High.
Training will take place on a small-format 80m by 40m field.
“We’re choosing between two venue providers,” Waters says.
Long-term, a facility may be built beside the academy ground, Herbert adds.
Meantime, the Events Centre will be used for indoor training.
The academy will be run by Johnson – a former Aussie international who had a glittering career in England with top teams Watford, Queens Park Rangers and Stoke City.
He finished his playing days this year with the Phoenix and will base himself in Queenstown.
Herbert will be here for the April school holidays and come down at other times.
The academy website – 82football.com – launches this weekend and registrations for the January courses open next Friday.
Entry will be either by application or invitation – Johnson and Waters will also undertake a talent-spotting national tour next March in the latter’s just-restored 1974 VW Kombi campervan.
Corporate sponsorship will be sought for scholarships to attract talented youngsters who can’t afford to attend.
Herbert also hopes many of the country’s top players will come down to inspire the kids.
Asked about the academy’s aims, he states: “It will be a professional academy run by good people who can provide a difference for those children but with a strong enjoyment factor flowing across the top of it.”