A teenager who played school football in Wellington is about to play the game of his life — a quarter-final in the UEFA Europa League.
Eugenio Pizzuto plays for Portugese Premier League side Braga who face Scottish giants Rangers in a two-legged tie, starting with the home tie on Friday morning (7am NZT).
Only four years ago, he was playing for Scots College in Wellington and attracting interest from the Wellington Phoenix who invited him to academy training and to watch A-League games. He played 40 games for the college over two seasons.
Since then, Pizzulo has gained much attention as he builds a promising professional career in Europe.
Born in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, with an Italy-born father and Mexico-born mother, the wide attacking midfielder was 12 when he arrived in New Zealand.
How Pizzulo came to New Zealand
He had been spotted by New Zealand-based scout Jess Ibrom at player trials held in Mexico in 2013, in which he and his brother Guillermo took part.
Ibrom was recruiting for the Asia Pacific Football Academy, for which he was the high-performance coach. That academy became what is now known as the Wellington Phoenix academy.
After Piozzulo came to New Zealand, Ibrom told Stuff’s Phillip Rollo:
“Our model was not only to recruit the best talent we could find in New Zealand but also abroad; South-East Asia, Latin America and other countries. Mexico we had good links there and we would go over on a regular basis and watch players.
“The profile of the Mexican player is so different to the normal Kiwi player but when you mix them in the same training group it really, really accelerates all of their development.”
Pizzulo’s career since he left the Phoenix Academy
The Phoenix worked with Pizzulo till 2017 but could not play him due to FIFA laws preventing the international transfer of minors.
Pizzuto returned to Mexico and joined the Pachuca club in 2018.
He became a Mexican age group international and was awarded the Bronze Ball for his individual performances at the 2019 FIFA U-17 World Cup at which his side finished runners-up to Brazil.
In August 2020, he signed for French club Lille and then became a free agent in January 2022, joining Braga who are managed by former Sheffield Wednesday and Swansea City manager Carlos Carvalhal.
Though he has yet to break into the full Mexican national side, he has been invited to training camps and is considered a prospect for future inclusion.
Main photo: Pizzulo … now with Portugese club Braga. Image: Braga FC.