Wellington sensation signs landmark deal: ‘Our goal is to showcase him on a bigger stage’

Wellington Phoenix have handed out the longest contract in the club’s history to teenage sensation Lukas Kelly-Heald.

Kelly-Heald has penned a four-year deal with the Isuzu UTE A-League outfit, having impressed with Wellington’s reserve side over the past two seasons.

The towering 18-year-old defender – who joined Phoenix’s academy in 2021 – also represented New Zealand at the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Argentina, where he started three of four matches.

Giancarlo Italiano and the Phoenix have big plans for Kelly-Heald, who was born and bred in Wellington.

INS AND OUTS: Isuzu UTE A-League 2023-24 Transfer Centre

“Lukas is a great kid and technically a very nice player,” said Phoenix head coach Italiano, who replaced Ufuk Talay at the end of 2022-23.

“Physically he’s big which will help him matching up to the more senior players in the A-League.

“He’s worked hard at the academy, and I’ve always had good reports from his coaches that he’s really focused to do well and go to that next stage.

“I think there’s a lot of upside with him. He’s got a great attitude, he’s a good professional and he’s always asking the right questions.”

Italiano added: “I’ve got no fear in playing these younger players, as long as they can give me the output I’m looking for and demonstrate their drive and focus. I’m happy to reward any player that does that.

“Our goal is to develop Lukas into a first team player and showcase him on a bigger stage.

“We see him as a potential All White, with the ability to play overseas in the future.”

Kelly-Heald’s twin brother Alby also plays for Wellington as their number one reserves goalkeeper, while he was part of the U20 World Cup.

His signing comes after Phoenix brought in Mohamed Al-Taay (Newcastle Jets) and Jack Duncan (Newcastle Jets).

Wellington, who reached the Elimination Final last season, have lost Oli Sail (Perth Glory), Clayton Lewis (Macarthur FC), Steven Ugarkovic (Melbourne City), Josh Laws, Nikko Boxall, Callan Elliott, Lucas Mauragis (end of loan) and Yan Sasse.

“It’s been a goal of mine since I first watched a Phoenix game,” Kelly-Heald said.

“Growing up in Wellington watching the Nix week-in, week-out it’s like a dream come true to now be part of the first-team squad.

“It’s always been a cool experience going to the stadium to watch the Phoenix and you aspire to be them and get to their level.

“It’s great to have the coaches and staff show their faith in me with a four-year contract. My parents and family are over the moon.”

Featured image: Wellington Phoenix