PLAYER SIGNING | Phoenix Youth Programme Pays Another Dividend

The Wellington Phoenix’ investment in a Football Academy for young New Zealanders continues to pay dividends.

The Wellington Phoenix’ investment in a Football Academy for young New Zealanders continues to pay dividends with the announcement that Justin Gulley has signed a one-year professional contract with the club.

Gulley is 22 years old, but was part of the club’s first intake in June 2012 when it was known as the Wellington Phoenix School of Excellence.

The three and a half years since then have been both exciting and frustrating for the hard-tackling, sound passing and speedy youngster.

Gulley has loved every minute being part of training alongside the established professionals but some niggling injuries have at times had him feeling down in the dumps.

“There were times when I was doing my rehab running round the pitch and having to watch the other young guys training with the first team,” Gulley says.

“That was frustrating but overall the past three and a bit years have been an awesome experience.

“When I began playing I never imagined that Wellington, or New Zealand, would one day have a pathway for youngsters to become professional footballers.”

A likeable, open young man, Gulley is quick to point out the part coach Ernie Merrick and his staff played in helping him achieve his dream.

“Ernie has encouraged me throughout and that played a big part in helping me keep going when rehab was a real grind,” he said.

“I owe a lot to the staff, especially our physio Rob Lee, because without them I wouldn’t have got this far.

“Now I have to knuckle down and keep working hard to try and break into the first team.”

Gulley gained Merrick’s attention soon after the coach arrived in Wellington.

“He caught my eye early on when he was in the New Zealand under-20 team at the World Cup in Turkey,” Merrick said.

“Had Justin not been suffering from osteitis pubis he would have been signed much earlier.

“Now that he is fully fit it was an easy decision to sign him.

“He is very quick, very good technically and a good tackler and will provide the cover we need on the right side of defence.”