Perseverance has paid off for Clayton Lewis.
Just under a year ago the Kiwi midfielder was coaching youth football and playing for amateur side Auckland United.
Fast forward to last week and Lewis was named in New Zealand’s men’s squad for the Tokyo Olympics, which came on the back of signing a two-year contract extension with the Wellington Phoenix.
That will provide plenty of security for the 24-year-old who looks to have found his feet in the professional game.
Having enjoyed a successful spell with Auckland City in New Zealand’s national league from 2015-2017 he joined English League Two club Scunthorpe United.
But he struggled to nail down a starting role and went back to Auckland City in 2019 determined to return to the professional ranks.
He didn’t have to wait too long for an opportunity when he inked a one-season agreement with the Phoenix last October.
Although Wellington missed out on the playoffs in the 2020-2021 A-League campaign, Lewis made more than 20 appearances for the club as he cemented his place in the squad.
The undoubted personal highlight came via a goal in the side’s 3-0 win over Western United in Wellington in late May.
“To be able to score at Sky Stadium, that was an unbelievable feeling, probably one of the best I’ve ever had,” Lewis said.
Now he will have the chance to play at the Olympics as part of a promising New Zealand squad that includes over-age players Chris Wood, Winston Reid and Michael Boxall.
Lewis knew he was always a strong chance to be named in the side but was determined to show coach Danny Hay he had the required fitness levels to add value in the midfield.
“It’s a dream come true,” he said.
“It was just a big sigh of relief; all the hard work that has been going on and all the stuff that people don’t quite see, I think it’s definitely something I’ve always dreamed of doing and now that it’s here, I just can’t wait to get there.”
Given the one-year delay for Tokyo 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, the men’s football competition will be contested by U-24 players, as opposed to the standard U-23 event.
New Zealand are in Group B, alongside South Korea, Honduras and Romania and will open their campaign against the Koreans on July 22.
Having the ability to call upon Burnley striker Wood, who is fresh off an impressive season in the English Premier League, should give New Zealand a boost.
“I’ve known Woodsy for quite a number of years now and I think he’s not changed since I’ve known him,” Lewis said.
“So, he’s banging in goals left, right and centre in the Premier Leaguer and for him to take the time during his off-season and to still come back and play with a lot of younger players, I think that just shows the kind of character he is and if he’s to lead the side at the Olympics I’m going to be extremely proud to hopefully take the pitch with him.”