Sigmund steps with Phoenix

AUCKLAND CITY defender Ben Sigmund has taken a big step up from the New Zealand Football Championship to land a professional contract with Wellington Phoenix FC.

AUCKLAND CITY defender Ben Sigmund has taken a big step up from the New Zealand Football Championship to land a professional contract with Wellington Phoenix FC.

The 27-year-old former Canterbury United player quit his fulltime job two years ago to pursue a career as a professional footballer and he has finally realised his ambition by signing a one-year deal with the Phoenix for the Hyundai A-League 2008/09 season.

“When I chucked in my job two years ago I set my sights on getting a professional contract and to make the Phoenix. Now that it-s happened it-s magnificent.”

Sigmund has been a standout performer in the NZFC with Auckland City and also with the All Whites, who are coached by Phoenix mentor Ricki Herbert.

That connection with the Phoenix-s All Whites contingent was integral to Sigmund securing his dream job.

“The All Whites guys in the Phoenix have been really supportive all the way through and they-ve helped me to develop by letting me know what I needed to do to get to the Phoenix.”

Phoenix chief executive Tony Pignata said the signing was significant in several ways - not just for Sigmund and for the Phoenix but also as a show of faith in the NZFC and the professional career pathway for footballers in New Zealand.

“It-s great that we can get someone from the NZFC and show that there is a pathway. Ben-s been a very good performer with Auckland City and he comes into the squad now as another defender as we shore up that area. Ben probably completes our defensive signings for the upcoming season.”

Pignata said there would be intense competition for spots in the Phoenix lineup, especially in defence, with the club now significantly strengthened at the back with the arrival of new signings Andrew Durante and Jon McKain and presence of last season-s central linchpin, Karl Dodd.

“It-s all open - no one-s guaranteed a spot. Ben-s goal will be to show Ricki and everyone else that he deserves a spot in the starting XI. He-s a current All White and was one of the standouts in New Zealand-s 2-2 draw with Wales, so everything bodes very well for him. He-ll see it as a new challenge and it-s great that we-ve been able to get him onboard.”

Sigmund had previously been targeted by the Phoenix but an earlier deal fell through due to FIFA-s rule that a player cannot play for more than three clubs in a calendar year. Now the way is clear for the central defender to join the Wellington-based club.

“To be fair it has taken a little while to get Ben here but he understood where things were at and was patient,” Pignata said. “We had spoken to him a little while ago but we really wanted him to be able to concentrate on the O-League campaign as skipper of Auckland City.”

Auckland City has been eliminated from the O-League but Sigmund will stay with the team as it seeks the NZFC championship title.

Sigmund will join his new club and teammates in mid-May.

BEN SIGMUND

Date of birth: February 3, 1981 in Blenheim, New Zealand (27 years) Height, weight: 1.8m, 84kg Playing position: Central defender

Club history: Auckland City, Fawkner Blues (Victorian State League), Canterbury United

Hyundai A-League statistics: None (to debut with Phoenix)

Representative honours: New Zealand All Whites (five caps), debut v Oman in 2000

Biography: Sigmund was recalled to the All Whites for the 2-2 draw against Wales in late May after almost seven years in football-s international wilderness. The central defender-s only previous appearance was as a late substitute against Oman at the 2000 Merdeka Tournament in Kuala Lumpur. Voted player and players- player of the year after helping Auckland City capture their third NZFC title after a dream appearance at the FIFA Club World Cup in December 2006.