History-making Phoenix teen ticks off ‘big dream’: ‘I didn’t think it would come this quickly’

Wellington Phoenix teenager and academy graduate Gabriel Sloane-Rodrigues has signed his first professional contract three months before his 17th birthday.

Sloane-Rodrigues has signed a three-year deal – the first two years on scholarship terms, having become the youngest Phoenix player to play in the Isuzu UTE A-League last month.

The 16-year-old is the seventh player to progress from Wellington’s academy into the first team since Giancarlo Italiano was appointed head coach at the start of 2023-24.

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“It’s been a big dream of mine since I joined the academy,” Sloane-Rodrigues said. “I didn’t think it would come this quickly.

“I’m obviously over the moon about it.”

It has been an historic season for Wellington, who have earned the most points and highest position in their Isuzu UTE A-League history as they go head-to-head with Central Coast Mariners for the Premiership.

It has come while Italiano has placed his faith in youth and academy prospects with the likes of Lukas Kelly-Heald and Isaac Hughes all earning opportunities this season.

“It’s difficult for a coach to have that much faith in young players, but it’s been working,” said New Zealand Under-17 international Sloane-Rodrigues.

“He trusts his young players and it makes us more confident. He always tells me he doesn’t care if I make mistakes as long as I keep working hard and don’t put my head down.”

Sloane-Rodrigues made the move to Wellington with his mother Donna aged 14, linking up with Phoenix’s academy.

“She’s played a massive role in my football and I’m really grateful to have her here with me,” he said.

“My mum takes me to all my trainings and games, buys me boots and new gear, and feeds me every day.

“She could have just told me I could board, but she’s made some sacrifices herself to help me with my football journey so I really appreciate her.”

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Italiano has high hopes for Sloane-Rodrigues, who was spotted by the Phoenix boss while playing for the club’s third in the Capital Premier League.

“I felt as though he had a little bit of x-factor about him,” Italiano said. “He was doing things different to what the other players were.

“He was taking on players, dribbling, switching the ball on the run and I just felt like he had a point of difference, and I liked it.

“When he first came into training he showed the same thing which I saw in the game so that gave me a lot of confidence.”

Italiano added: “He needs time, but after two years in this environment he’ll be flying.

“I would like to see him build game time next season…a bit like how Oskar van Hattum has progressed this season. I see that sort of trajectory for him.

“Once he scores and he gets a bit of belief I think he can do really well. I also want to see him make the next national team for his age-group.”

Buy tickets to Isuzu UTE A-League HERE!