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
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
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.
“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
super excited about being here.
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.
“When you do proper development
programmes, what can happen is you can beat the big guns, that’s just a natural
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.
who’s originally from Germany, is a big fan and used to save his pocket money
to watch Rufer play for his home club.
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.
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.
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.
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,”
“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.
got to put the work in and never give up and have determination, perseverance,
those are really important words for all the youth.”
is here until Wednesday doing coaching sessions at Apii
Te Uki Ou, Apii Takitumu, Rutaki and Imanuela Akatemia, for children aged six