Reid: The World Cup changed my life

Long before he was asked to officially take up the position for this year’s FIFA U-20 World Cup in New Zealand, the West Ham United stalwart had emerged as a model representative for both his country and his sport.
At 26, Reid is already captain of the All Whites and has firmly established himself as one of the top defenders in the English Premier League.
Indeed, it was only after fending off strong interest from the likes of Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur that West Ham were able to convince their star centre-half to commit himself to a new contract. The deal’s length – six-and-a-half years – says everything about the esteem in which Reid is held at Upton Park.
“It did strike me to move,” he admitted after putting pen to paper. “But I felt it was important for me to stay here, be part of the club and help them build for the future.”
That same goal – to develop and shape – is also uppermost in Reid’s thoughts when it comes to his homeland. He knows that, as a spectator sport at least, football remains a distant third behind New Zealand’s traditional powers: rugby and cricket. But the West Ham star sees the upcoming U-20 World Cup, which kicks off in two months from today, as the perfect vehicle to continue and accelerate recent progress.
“It’s massive for the country,” he said. “The U-20s is a huge tournament on the world stage and we’ll have a lot of the very top nations in New Zealand competing for the trophy. It will be great for those teams too because they’re going to a country with so much to offer.
“Anyone visiting New Zealand will really enjoy themselves and, as hosts, it’s our job to make sure they leave with memories for life. The tournament should be a great success and I really hope the public get behind it. Football is growing in New Zealand but it’s still not the main sport, so hopefully this tournament can help the game gain more recognition.”
Reid, of course, knows all about the impact a World Cup can have. In 2010, as a little-known 21-year-old, he was thrust into the global spotlight when his injury-time equaliser against Slovakia earned New Zealand’s first-ever FIFA World Cup point. Within a couple of months, having become a national hero and a sought-after transfer target, he had swapped Danish football for the bright lights of the English Premier League.
“It changed my life,” he reflected. “The World Cup was one of the best things that ever happened to me. In life, it’s all about taking your chances, and it’s the same in football. We took ours in South Africa and did the nation proud. A lot of people expected us to be the whipping boys, so to come away unbeaten and draw with the world champions was fantastic. It established a great standard for the future.”
There is undoubted symbolism in the fact that New Zealand 2015’s two national ambassadors are Reid and Wynton Rufer. While the latter is Oceania’s player of the century and represents the best of his country’s football history, the former is setting the standards for its present and future. But though Rufer learned his trade in the capital, Wellington, and Reid’s formative steps came in the Auckland area, both share an enduring passion for the game they have championed.
As Reid said: “My first memories are of just kicking a ball about in the back yard. I’ve played football since I was four or five, out every day in my bare feet – it didn’t matter if it was winter or summer – enjoying myself with my mates. I had a lot of sports I was keen on in those days, but football was always my first priority and I put a lot more practice into that than the others. That would generally be out with my dad, him teaching me how best to kick the ball, and it was definitely the sport I enjoyed most.”
That idyllic, football-filled childhood was seemingly shattered when, aged ten, Reid was told that he would be moving to Denmark with his mother and Danish stepfather. “I really didn’t approve,” he recalled. “But I didn’t have much of a choice and, looking back now, it was probably the best thing that could have happened to me. Denmark opened my eyes. I’d always enjoyed football, but the difference there is that football is the number one sport by a distance. And being new to the country, wanting to make friends, it was the perfect way for me to integrate.
“By the time I was 13 or 14, I knew that being a footballer was what I really wanted to do. I started playing in [regional] representative teams in Denmark and then at 15 I was scouted and signed by Midtjylland. When I joined their academy at 16, I was set on really giving it a go and seeing how far it would take me.”
Before long, it took him into Midtjylland’s first team and onwards to the richest league in the world and the captaincy of his national team. But in those crucial teenage years, having received Danish citizenship in 2006, it was in the red of his adopted country – not the all-white of New Zealand – that Reid lined up. Indeed, it was only after representing the Danish U-19 and U-21 sides – and with both nations having qualified for South Africa 2010 – that the centre-half made the definitive decision on where his heart lay.
“Going back to play for New Zealand hadn’t been something I’d considered too deeply, but it was always there in the back of my head,” he said. “Back in 2006, I’d got a call from Ricki (Herbert) asking if I wanted to be involved. I didn’t feel ready to make a big decision like that at such a young age, but I thought it might be something I’d like to do eventually. When I got the call four years later, I spoke to my old youth team coach, my family and friends, and decided that was what I wanted to do. As a Kiwi guy, born in New Zealand, it ended up being a fairly easy choice. I could have gone the other way, but sometimes you have to follow your gut.”
New Zealand fans are certainly glad that Reid went with his instincts, and the player himself has no regrets. Honoured to captain to his country, he is also proud of representing the Maori community and demonstrating to them what can be achieved in the beautiful game.
“That was one of the major reasons for me coming back and playing for New Zealand,” he explained. “Both my mum and dad are Maori, so that heritage is important to me. I really hope that more Maori and Pacific island kids can get involved in football because their genetics are fantastic. So many of them are big and strong – great attributes as a footballer. If I can inspire some of these kids to get involved in the game, I’d be thrilled.”
And should those youngsters require any further convincing, Reid says the U-20 World Cup will showcase perfectly football’s attributes. “There’s going to be something different about every single match,” he said. “Each team will bring its own philosophy and way of playing, and you never know – this might be the only time a World Cup of this stature comes to New Zealand. Hopefully not, but I think people should make the most of the opportunity. It’s definitely well worth ditching the oval ball for a couple of months to come out and watch.”
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