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Wellington could be the new Sydney Swans

Put down your knives and pitchforks – this article is as much about Australian Rules Football as it is about the city of Wellington. It’s actually more about the growth of discarded players in an inclusive environment – something that the Hyundai A-League has never been very capable with.

The Sydney Swans in the AFL, on the other hand, are well known for picking up players in trade week who perhaps have underperformed – Sam Reid, Ted Richards, Mitch Morton – and moulding them into future premiership stars.

And, yes, the A-League has had its journeyman players such as Michael Beauchamp (Mariners, Heart, Sydney & Wanderers) or Nikolai Topor-Stanley (Sydney, Perth, Newcastle & Wanderers), but rarely do you hear of a player being dumped after being considered ‘not good enough’.

Wellington seems to be the new home for players like this – with Jeremy Brockie, Leo Bertos, James Downey and Vince Lia, to name a few, all with at least their second A-League club. The most recent, however, is US-born striker-cum-midfielder Alex Smith. After a series of eye catching performances in the lead up to the 2011/12 Hyundai A-League season with Sydney Olympic in the NSW Premier League, Smith was called up to trial with Gold Coast United. However, after bringing Dutch striker Maceo Rigters into the Gold Coast camp, the club were forced to make a decision – which player would be better to bring in on the last international visa spot?

Smith was cast out into the football wilderness as the club instead went with the experienced Dutchman on the eve of the season, leaving him without a club in the Hyundai A-League.

Many players take rejection poorly and can severely affect their performance, however Smith was unlike these players.He began training with the Wellington Phoenix and it wasn’t long until the enigmatic footballer caught the eye of the New Zealand club. Smith was offered a deal till the end of the season, sparking a turn in fortunes on both a personal and club level on the north island.

Smith was no ‘one-season trick pony’ either, as he backed up his claims as a genuine A-League player with a cental role in the Phoenix’s 2-0 win against the Del Piero led Sydney FC this weekend.

But Smith is not the only success story this season at Wellington Phoenix – it would seem a player shunned by the rest of the A-League, whom finally has his chance at the national level, has made clear his intentions to stay.

26-year-old Benjamin Totori finally got his chance in the league after knocking on the door of the competition since its origin. Playing most of his football in Oceania, Totori might not be a name familiar to those who don’t follow the plight of the Oceanian Football Confederation. A Solomon Islander, Totori is not the first of his nationality to play in the A-League either, after Henry Fa’arodo played for Perth Glory in the league’s inaugural season.

But after his stellar performance in the recent OFC Nations Cup, manager Ricki Herbert lauded Totori and added him to his roster for the 2012/13 season. Totori played a ‘cool’ game for the Phoenix against Sydney FC, but showed signs that he too could be yet another gem uncovered by Herbert.

And who’s to say that he’ll be the last?

About the author

avatarKris is a freelance sports journalist, a two-time WA media guild award winner, and podcast host and writer for Ultimate A-League.

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  • Mike Smith

    Alex Smith does have a great attitide and his positivity  is uplifting.

  • http://twitter.com/kristiandwyer Kristian Dwyer

    Completely agree. I’ve been following his fortunes from the Sydney Olympics days :)