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Unearthing footballing gems – Former All Whites star coaches next generation of footballers

Tuesday 15 November 2022 | Written by Caleb Fotheringham | Published in Soccer, Sports

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Unearthing footballing gems – Former All Whites star coaches next generation of footballers
All Whites great Wynton Rufer against Scotland during the 1982 World Cup in Spain. 22111107

Oceania player of the century and largely regarded as the best football player New Zealand has ever produced, Wynton Rufer, has set his sights on coaching young Cook Islanders.

At Apii Te Uki Ou on Friday Rufer gives the Year 7 and 8 students a ball each. Juggling is the first skill he gets the kids to work on – the easiest and best way to improve a player’s first touch, according to the former striker. It’s followed by short football matches and then each student gets a crack to beat Rufer who stands in goal.

The children gave a few “woahs” and “wows” during Rufer’s juggling demonstration, but it was only after the session that some kids realise what level he played at. 

Wynton Rufer coaching Year 7 and 8 Apii Te Uki Ou students. 22111305
Wynton Rufer coaching Year 7 and 8 Apii Te Uki Ou students. 22111305

“You didn’t tell us you met Maradona and Pele,” one of the students say, excited that the person who taught them for the morning, rubbed shoulders with the greatest footballers to ever live.

Rufer spent 16 years playing professional football in Switzerland, Germany, Japan and New Zealand. He won four major titles playing for German club Werder Bremen. He also featured in the 1982 All Whites team that made it to the world cup – it’s only one of two times the team has played in the tournament held every four years, the second was in 2010. 

Rufer only arrived on the island Friday morning but is already planning his next trip.

Children focus on juggling, one of Wynton Rufer’s main ball skills.  22111307
Children focus on juggling, one of Wynton Rufer’s main ball skills. 22111307

“Hundred per cent I’m going to come back here,” he says after two training sessions at local schools, “I'm coming back in February, we’re already on a roll.”

Rufer, who describes himself as an “eternal optimist”, is in the Cook Islands with the dream of creating football career pathways for young players. He plans to work with New Zealand schools and football academies including his own.

“I’m super excited about being here.

“There’s a whole pathway, kids coming to New Zealand, kids then going on to get scholarships in America, trials overseas, you’ve got everything. It’s like a pyramid and at the top you’ve got the professional football.”

Rufer says Pacific Islanders are incredible athletes.

“I’ve said it for 25 years, I went to all the islands, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji, the talent is phenomenal, absolutely phenomenal. I’ve got five kids in my academy in Auckland all with Cook Islands connections,” Rufer says.

“I knew it as a player, (I) came over here (the Pacific) in under 19s, I played against Fiji, I played against Papua New Guinea, I always played against these islanders that were just phenomenal athletes, but they couldn’t play, they didn’t know how to kick a ball.

Wynton Rufer (left) with Tim Meyer who organised the former professional footballer’s visit. 22111308
Wynton Rufer (left) with Tim Meyer who organised the former professional footballer’s visit. 22111308

“When you do proper development programmes, what can happen is you can beat the big guns, that’s just a natural outcome.”

Rufer’s dream is shared with Tim Meyer, who has been organising the former footballer’s visit for around two years, which has been delayed due to Covid-19.

Meyer, who’s originally from Germany, is a big fan and used to save his pocket money to watch Rufer play for his home club.

The contact between the two began after Meyer sent Rufer a message on Facebook hearing he was in Rarotonga for a holiday. A month later, Meyer got a response, after a bit of chat Rufer said he was keen to run a grassroots training programme for young boys and girls aged six to 10.  

“When Wynton then expressed that opportunity of coming here and sharing his love for the game, in our community where I have the network, I thought this is something that I just have to dedicate some time to, to be able to create this opportunity for the young kids to fall in love with the game the same way that I have,” Meyer says.

Rufer’s trainings are all about ball skills, hence the juggling focus. According to his academy website skills focus on the basics, like passing with both feet.

It’s a simple formula that Rufer is adamant will never change. It’s also what he attributes his professional success to.  

“All I did was train with the ball every day,” he says.

An Apii Te Uki Ou student tries to score with Wynton Rufer in goal. 22111309
An Apii Te Uki Ou student tries to score with Wynton Rufer in goal. 22111309

“We’ve got to teach the kids to kick with both feet and have a very good first touch with the ball.

“All you need is a ball and a little bit of area. I had a technique like a Brazilian and I learnt on my own with the ball, I didn’t have to have any fancy programme, any fancy training, teammates, it’s actually a really simple formula.”

For aspiring footballers, hard work is what it takes, Rufer says.

“You’ve got to put the work in and never give up and have determination, perseverance, those are really important words for all the youth.”

Rufer is here until Wednesday doing coaching sessions at Apii Te Uki Ou, Apii Takitumu, Rutaki and Imanuela Akatemia, for children aged six to 12.