By Henry Lee
New Zealand U-17 international Marley Leuluai has signed his first professional contract on the eve of the FIFA U-17 Men’s World Cup in Indonesia.
As the New Zealand team prepared for their opening game at the tournament, against Venezuela, English Premier League club Burnley confirmed they had signed a contract with Leuluai on his 17th birthday.
Players cannot sign professional contracts in the United Kingdom till they are 17 but Burnley contracted Leuluai till the summer of 2026 as he celebrated his birthday on November 8.
Leuluai told the Burnley website: “It’s a dream come true to sign my first professional contract. That’s it really, I can’t say much more, it’s a dream.
“I think it’s been the perfect transition, to be honest, joining Burnley’s Academy. The style of play we’re trying to play; I’ve been playing that all my life, so it’s been a really good transition, and I’m loving every minute. It’s been really good so far.”
Main photo: Leuluai wore his ulafala, a traditional Samoan necklace, when he signed his contract, acknowledging his Samoan heritage. Photo credit: Burnley FC.
Meanwhile, the son of former international rugby league player Kylie Leuluai has been interviewed for the New Zealand sports podcast Sideline Yarns.
The episode, due to be released soon, describes Marley’s career since joining Manchester City at seven.
But first, representing his country at the U-17 World Cup is at the forefront of his mind.
During the OFC U-16 Men’s Championship in January 2023, Leuluai was named captain for the first match by New Zealand coach Martin Bullock.
“It was a day before we played New Caledonia. And, yeah, he just pulled me aside and just said I’m gonna be captain for the game. He sort of said it like it was nothing. But ,yeah, I just walked off, and I was just buzzing.
“I can’t describe the feeling, to be honest, like. Yeah, it’s just everything about it, you know, representing all your family back home.”
What did your parents think of you being captain?
“Yeah, they were happy. But you know, I think they wanted me to be captain as well. You know, I’ve always told them I wanted to play for New Zealand and not any other country in football.
“So they always said you should aim to, try and be a captain or a leader for that team.”
Leuluai has been impressed by national U-17 head coach Martin Bullock who has worked hard to create an environment that allows the players to showcase their talent, and pride for the fern.
“Martin has been class,” Leuluai told the podcast.
“I think he’s been really good with our group. I think he’s managed us all well because we’ve got a couple from England, and it’s probably not normal for New Zealand teams to have as many English players as we’ve had.
“I think he handles us really well. I think everyone respects him, you know, because he had a good career as well, playing over here in England so he knows what it’s about and he knows the level that you have to get to.
“So we all respect him very much. I just hope we can put the performances at the World Cup to back him up because he deserves it. He puts in a lot of work for us.”
And what of New Zealand’s chances at the World Cup?
“Obviously it’s a great experience for all of us to learn from as well as playing. It’s some of the top countries. I think we just gotta take it game by game.
“Our first game, Venezuela, we gotta make sure we get something from that and not look too far ahead of ourselves because we gotta get there first.”
Henry Lee is an Auckland-based journalism student who co-presents the Sideline Yarns podcast.
Game to be played on Sunday November 12, 2023
New Zealand v Venezuela
Si Jalak Harupat Stadium, Bandung (10pm, NZT)
Game to be played on Thursday November 16, 2023 (NZT)
New Zealand v Germany
Si Jalak Harupat Stadium, Bandung (1am, NZT)
Game to be played on Saturday November 18, 2023
New Zealand v Mexico
Si Jalak Harupat Stadium, Bandung (10pm NZT)
New Zealand squad
Josh Brown Western Suburbs, New Zealand
Matt Foord Cashmere Technical, New Zealand
Eamonn McCarron Wellington Phoenix, New Zealand
Luka Coveny Western United, Australia
Noah DuPont West Bromwich Albion, England
Jesper Edwards Wellington Phoenix, New Zealand
Dylan Gardiner Hamilton Wanderers, New Zealand
Athan Thompson Wellington Phoenix, New Zealand
Anaru Cassidy Wellington Phoenix, New Zealand
Matt D’Hotman Melville United, New Zealand
Paris Domfeh Wellington Phoenix, New Zealand
Anton Isaako Sydney FC, Australia
Marley Leuluai Burnley, England
Luke Mitchell Hamilton Wanderers, New Zealand
Nick Murphy Christchurch United, New Zealand
Mac Prathumphithak Christchurch United, New Zealand
Gabriel Sloane-Rodrigues Wellington Phoenix, New Zealand
Luke Supyk Wellington Phoenix, New Zealand
Stipe Ukich Auckland City, New Zealand
Nathan Walker Fencibles United, New Zealand
Adam Watson Stoke City, England