Football: Wellington Phoenix secure another long-term player contract as Auckland A-League expansion looms

Auckland-born midfielder Ben Old has extended his stay in the capital, re-signing with Wellington Phoenix under the end of the 2027 season.

One day after the official launch of an Auckland expansion team, New Zealand's existing A-League franchise has acknowledged the competition now on for homegrown players in the Australian competition. 

Fittingly, the Phoenix head north this weekend, as their women's and men's teams play a doubleheader against Perth Glory and Melbourne City respectively at Go Media Stadium Mt Smart, a venue that will likely become somewhat more hostile, once the new club joins the fray in 2024.

Ben Old in action for Wellington Phoenix.
Ben Old in action for Wellington Phoenix. Photo credit: Getty Images

"It's very promising," said Old, 21, who moved to the capital as a 15-year-old to join the Phoenix academy.

"Obviously, before, the Phoenix has been the pathway for us young boys, but having another pathway for a lot of players, there's nothing wrong with that.

"It's a very good pathway for any New Zealanders to prove themselves, and hopefully go on to bigger and better things."

Last month, the Phoenix secured the ongoing services of rookie goalkeeper Alex Paulsen - another Auckland native, who has been a breakout performer in their unbeaten start to the current campaign.

New head coach Giancarlo Italiano welcomes the retention of his young core, but insists his club is following a process that began before the Auckland team came to fruition.

"I don't think Auckland was in the equation in terms of how we planned things," he said. "This was always on the cards.

"I'm happy with how we're recruiting at the moment and how we're giving an opportunity for a lot of these young players to show what they have.

"I'd love to keep all our players - the reality is whether we can afford them. If we keep doing well, the assets appreciate and we only have so much money."

American billionaire Bill Foley has bankrolled the new Auckland franchise and promised success, after building Vegas Golden Knights into Stanley Cup ice hockey champions with just six years of joining the NHL. The gaudy championship ring on his left hand is testament to his ambitions in New Zealand.

Italiano is skeptical about those goals.

"I think the identity of a club is centred around its values and long term vision," he said. "If you gauge success by winning a championship in the first couple of years, but if it's not sustainable, have they done a good job?

"I don't so. I think the purpose of a club is to surround itself with its own product, building its own players, which they have developed from a young age, and playing an exciting brand of football and I stick to that."

Old is in his third season with the Phoenix top side and is approaching 50 A-League games, but saw last season cut short by a painful groin inflammation known as osteitis pubis. He has returned much sooner than expected, after rehabbing the injury over the winter.

"I was able to play through the pain, but I wasn't able to play to the standard that I wanted to," he explained. "Eventually, I just had to stop playing.

"That was a decision I took with the medical team. Thankfully, we stopped then, because any longer, it would have just prolonged my time out."