With big shoes to fill – big brother Ben’s in fact – Max Mata is hoping to one-up his older sibling with an eye-catching performance at the OFC U-17 Championship in Tahiti over the next two weeks.
“We’re brothers, but then we’re best friends at the same time,” he explains of his relationship with Ben.
“We’re really competitive, but we don’t give up on each other. He helps me out with things, and I help him out with things when I can.
“My brother did quite well while he was in the U-17 squad but I’m looking ahead of that, I’m looking to do one better.”
The 16-year-old first made headlines in 2015 when he was one of two recipients of the first Winston Reid Scholarship which provided him with a place at the Wellington Phoenix Football Academy in Wellington.
With the silver fern displayed proudly on his chest for the first time, just as it was for Ben two years ago at the same event, Mata is keen to further cement the family name in the New Zealand Football history books.
“I was really happy to make the U-17 squad and really proud,” he said.
“To play for your country is something special. I haven’t done it before but I’m really looking forward to it. We’re here now and all I can do is continue to work hard and if I get my shot out on the pitch I won’t take it for granted.”
Mata’s confidence stems from his experience at the Wellington Phoenix Academy, and the young footballer hopes to show his appreciation for the Winston Reid Scholarship by following in his role model’s footsteps.
“When I received the scholarship from one of the best footballers to ever come out of New Zealand, it was a great feeling,” he said.
“I look up to Winston a lot, we were born in the same place and I really admire what he does.
Hopefully I can follow in his footsteps and one day do what he can do.”
Since moved back up to Auckland, Mata has enjoyed a season with Lotto Northern Regional Premier League team Onehunga Sports, and believes the senior league has given him a technical edge and better mind for the game.
“The intensity is a lot higher here training with the U-17s whereas the senior players at Onehunga are technically better,” he said.
“It’s two different styles and it’s good to work with both, then bring it all into one and create my own style of play.”
With the support of his brother, his experience at Onehunga Sports and the Wellington Phoenix Academy, combined with the pure drive he possesses to keep improving, Mata is positive he will be representing New Zealand at the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017.
“My goal of the tournament is to win and after the tournament I’ll continue to work hard and push towards making the world cup squad, should we win this competition. That’s my ultimate goal this year,” he said.
“I’m 100 per cent confident we’re going to do everything correctly. I’m just excited to play. I’m not nervous, nothing like that, just excited.”
New Zealand will play Samoa in their first match of the OFC U-17 Championship at 4pm (local time) at Stade Pater in Papeete, Tahiti on 12 February.