Having played for and coached the All Whites, Ricki Herbert is now chasing the next step in his football dream — helping develop a stream of future players for the national side.
Herbert (61) has established an innovative extension to his youth academy, opening a residential facility for promising young footballers who want what he calls “a fully-immersed football experience.”
Main photo: Ricki and Raewyn Herbert with the first intake of academy players to their residential facility.
The Ricki Herbert Football Academy has entered its 10th year with talent centres in the Northland, Auckland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Wellington regions.
Having helped develop internationals such as Liberato Cacace and Elijah Just, Herbert’s academy aims to help more players achieve their potential with a live-in option at the academy’s newly-opened residential facility.
It’s a 5-bedroom, 1800 sq m property in Cambridge, that backs onto John Kerkhof Park, the home ground of Cambridge FC, for whom Herbert is the club’s Technical Director.
The Herberts’ dream has been made possible by the support of Braedon and Kylie Makgill, and Amanda Tosland, who share their passion for football, and have invested in the property, and in the RHFA.
“Our families are long-time Cambridge residents, and we want Cambridge to be the centre for football in New Zealand,” Braedon Makgill said.
“We are parents of young players, so we see the difference the right environment can make. We really believe this is the best way to provide players with an outstanding environment.”
While the house will eventually cater for up to 20 players, the first intake of young players has seen three arrivals from Northland, two from Taupo and players from Taranaki and Christchurch.
Three go to the local high school while four attend a middle school.
Herbert and his wife Raewyn live at the facility during school terms, ensuring the players get the right balance between their football and academic educations.
“This is an opportunity for these players, supported by their families, to fully commit to becoming the best footballers they possibly can,” Herbert said.
“Their daily and weekly routine is designed to help them reach their full potential, and to become fully-rounded individuals with good habits they’ll keep for life.”
A typical day starts with a training session, literally over the back fence of the property on the Cambridge pitch.
A healthy breakfast might be followed by the chance to watch a live match on television, with the players and Herbert analysing the game together.
“It’s enjoyable but also a chance to get across tips and ideas,” Herbert says.
The boys — all the first intake are males — head off to school.
Upon their return, the players use a pool of computer desks for school studies, or for recreation.
In the afternoons/evenings, the players attend academy training, and the RHFA coaches oversee a number of teams that take part in the WaiBOP Football federation youth leagues.
“We’re careful not to overload the players, and having them under the same roof means we can monitor their progress individually as well as a group.”
A tribute to Clive Herbert
The residential facility has been named Clive House, a tribute to Herbert’s late father, Clive, who was a long-time coach, football administrator and mentor to many young players.
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When the families and supporters of the first player intake got together for the opening of Clive House, Herbert was presented with a specially designed training shirt that incorporates references to his football journey.
These include the RH3 logo — Herbert’s shirt number during his playing career — and a stylised map of the Papatoetoe suburb in Auckland where Herbert was raised as a youngster.
The interior of Clive House is unmistakably football-themed.
The players’ bedrooms are named after some of the world’s greatest footballers. Inspirational football quotes have been carefully painted on walls.
Football strips — such as those from the Wellington Phoenix, where Herbert was head coach — show the allegiance of young players who dream of one day wearing them.
‘A chance to live their dream’
For Ricki and Raewyn Herbert, the next phase in their life is just starting.
Plans to further develop the house mean it could have up to 20 young players living there.
“We’re loving it,” says Herbert. “For us, this is a chance to help young people live their dream, and to help them gain the rewards from football that I’ve enjoyed.”
Acknowledgement: Thanks to Emma Young and to Hurricane Press for providing the photographs featured with this story.