Wellington Phoenix’s new signing has achieved a lifelong dream. His mum’s reaction was everything

Wellington Phoenix’s new recruit Isaac Hughes has worked his whole life to become a pro footballer. When he told his mum he’d landed his first senior deal, she burst into tears.

Wellington Phoenix have promoted reserve team captain Isaac Hughes to their senior side, handing the centre-back a two-year professional deal.

The 19-year-old, who has represented New Zealand at Under-20 and Under-23 level, is the third player to graduate from the Nix academy into Giancarlo Italiano’s first team this season, following teammates Lukas Kelly-Heald and Fin Conchie.

Hughes made his senior debut on August 27, coming on as a second-half substitute in Wellington’s 3-0 loss to Melbourne City in the Australia Cup Round of 16.

“We’ve been in the market for a central defender; someone with good aerial ability and somebody who is composed on the ball, and Isaac ticked all the boxes,” Italiano said.

“The fact that he’s come through the academy has made it an easier decision because it aligns with the club’s philosophy.

“It’s really important that we give our talented young players an opportunity.

“Isaac’s a great leader, he’s great off the park and the players have the utmost respect for him.

“He’s a good kid as well which ties in with one of our core values which is being a good person.”

Hughes was born in England and spent time in the academies of both Bolton Wanderers and Crewe Alexandra before moving to New Zealand at age 10.

This contract sees him recognise his lifelong dream of becoming a professional footballer.

“Securing a pro contract feels like a culmination of a life’s work even though I’m only 19,” Hughes said. “I feel like I’ve been working towards this moment every day of my life.

“If you take it from how long I’ve been playing football then I guess (I’ve been working towards this) for 16 years, because I started when I was three years old!

“But I’d say I proper started taking it seriously when I was about 12, started altering my diet and doing extra sessions away from the club and really putting in the work.

“It has been a long time coming and it feels great to just finally get it done. Now it’s time to take the next steps.

“It was always the goal. I was playing in the Wellington region and you play against Phoenix academy and I was so nervous when I played against them. I was like, ‘are people going to be watching? I want to put on a show!’

“Getting into the academy was a proud moment but, I think I’ve said it before, loads of people make academies and I’ve been in the academy system in England and I know, you can be in the academy, you can get dropped, it can turn.

“You can be the best player one week and then you’re out. It’s nothing big. You’ve got to work hard. If you’ve made the academy you’re not there yet.”

Asked how proud his family is of this achievement, Hughes recalled how his mum burst into tears upon hearing the news that he’d finally signed his first pro deal with the Nix.

“They’re immensely proud. It could be anything, it’s not just football, when your son achieves the thing he’s been working for for the past however many years, it’s just a proud moment,” he said.

“I got off the phone with (Phoenix Director of Football) Shaun Gill and I rang my mum within 20 seconds. I was like, ‘mum, it’s happening’. She just burst out crying.

“She was like, ‘can I tell the others?’. I was like, ‘yeah go tell them’.

“I was getting texts from my brothers and sisters, I’m part of quite a big family, so it was a special moment.”

He added: “Its crazy. I think from the age of six I was doing hour commutes to training.

“I’ve had aunties drive me here and there, sisters drive me here and there, my mum. My brothers and sisters, maybe they can’t go to their clubs tonight because my football takes priority. It’s a big sacrifice from everyone.

“Everyone has to eat a bit healthier around me. Nope, we’re not having burger and chips tonight! It’s a big sacrifice.”

Hughes, wo believes his aggression and natural defending instincts are the biggest attributes he’ll bring to the Nix first team, will begin his senior career wearing the number 26 shirt.

“I’ve chosen (number) 26 because my favourite player growing up was Nemanja Vidic,” he explained.

“That was his number at Spartak before he moved to Man United. It was perfect. I kind of wanted 15 but Nico (Pennington) got it, so I was like, ‘that’s ok, I’ll get the next best number!’”

With that in mind, it’s little wonder he’s been watching one player particularly closely while training with the Wellington first team.

“There’s a lot of quality in the squad… I mean Scott Wootton’s played for Man United! I’m a massive Man United fan, sometimes I’m looking over thinking, ‘god, some of the people he must’ve played with…’.

“Everyone has their own strengths, their own qualities, there’s certain things I bring to the table as a centre-back that the other two don’t but there’s certain things they bring that I don’t yet and its just about working on those weaknesses.”

Hughes will be competing with the likes of Wootton, Finn Surman, Tim Payne and Kelly-Heald for a berth in the heart of Italiano’s defence.

Wellington Phoenix begin their Isuzu UTE A-League campaign with a visit to Western Sydney Wanderers on October 22.