Special feature: Auckland City skipper Cam Howieson’s “big, big dream”

Auckland City captain Cam Howieson hopes an outstanding appearance at the FIFA Club World Cup might put him in the frame for a recall to the All Whites.

Cam Howieson … proud to wear the fern. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.

In an interview with FIFA.com, Howieson (28) says going to a FIFA Men’s World Cup remains “a big, big dream” after previous participation in U-17 and U-20 World Cups, and the Olympic Games.

Main photo: Cam Howieson … ‘I will never give up trying.’ Photo: Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.

“It’s the only one I haven’t ticked off,” he says of the World Cup.

“It might take an unbelievable run at the Club World Cup to get me there. Whatever happens, I will never give up trying because it would be an awesome experience to go to the World Cup.”

Howieson said he was the only non-professional player at the last All Whites camp he attended.

“Even though that was a little daunting, it was amazing to see how far New Zealand had come as a football nation. When I first started going into camp, I was playing professionally but not many players were. We’re growing as a country and we’ve got so many world-class players.”

Playing for New Zealand rates highly in Howieson’s ambitions.

“Every time you pull on that fern and that shirt, it’s such a proud moment for me and my family and everyone who’s supported me. To do it in a World Cup, I can’t even imagine how awesome that would be.

“Never say never. Nothing is impossible.”

Q & A with Cam Howieson

FIFA.com caught up with Howieson as he prepared for December’s FIFA Club World Cup in Saudi Arabia …

You were in England at the time, but do you remember Auckland City’s fairy-tale run to bronze at the FIFA Club World Cup in 2014?

I remember it really well. When I was at my later years at Burnley, a good mate of mine, Tim Payne, used to play for Blackburn. There was obviously a big rivalry between the two clubs, but we actually ended up living together for a year. Then he went back home and signed for Auckland City. They finished third, which was amazing. I was hearing about it from him and keeping up with it on social media. You still hear stories from the players who were on that trip and still play now: Ryza (Ryan De Vries), Emi (Emiliano Tade). It was incredible for the club and for the sport in New Zealand. Hopefully, we can do that again, whether it be at this tournament or in the future. The younger kids all aspire to do something special like that one day.

Auckland City came third at the 2014 FIFA Club World Cup, pulling off one of modern football’s biggest giantkilling acts. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.

What have your FIFA Club World Cup experiences been like?

The first one in 2017 still hurts. I knew we had a very good team that year. It showed. We came off that pitch feeling very disappointed (Auckland lost 1-0 to Al Jaziri). To lose one-nil when we dominated the game, had a lot of shots on target was hard to take. I’d been to the [FIFA U-] 17s World Cup, [FIFA U-] 20s World Cup, Olympics. I’d come up against a lot of good teams. That was one of the only times I came off thinking we were much the better side, so that was quite frustrating.

At the last Club World Cup, Al Ahly were very, very good. One of the best teams I’ve come up against. They had some quality, quality players. They played really good football but were direct as well. They were really clinical. It was a learning curve for us. For a lot of our players, it was their first Club World Cup, so hopefully they’ve learned from that experience. We’ve got more confidence going into this one. Al Ahly were a really good side and now we’ve got another really good side to play against.

Mario Illich, Cam Howieson and Ryan de Vries at the forefront of training at the 2022 FIFA Club World Cup in Morocco. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.

Do you think, given the calibre of players Al Ittihad have signed, they will be the toughest opponents Auckland City have ever faced in the competition?

It’s going to be a really tough one. They’ve brought in some world-class players, some of the best in the world. It will be very challenging. Sometimes when you mix the best players in the world, it doesn’t gel, but I’ve been watching their games and it has gelled. The toughest game we’ve faced? I’d say Al Ahly or Al Ittihad.

How do you think you’ll feel seeing the likes of Fabinho, N’Golo Kante and Karim Benzema beside you in the tunnel?

It’s awesome to know we’re coming up against those players. Some of our boys will be star-struck. The only time we see Kante and Benzema is on the TV. It will be surreal, but it will be a great experience. It’s good to put yourself up against these top players and see where you are. The only thing you can do is give 100 per cent, make it as difficult as possible for them, and make everyone proud. Nothing is impossible. Football’s a crazy game. We always see upsets in the world of football. Auckland have pulled off upsets before. Why can’t we do it again at this Club World Cup?

How can Auckland pull off that upset?

You need a lot of luck! (laughs) Auckland are always favourites to win our competitions. Then we have to flip the switch and go to the Club World Cup as the underdogs. We’re used to having the ball 70, 80 per cent of the time in New Zealand. Now we’ll have to defend for 70, 80 minutes. It’s very tough and mentally draining. The key things are taking your opportunities – you might only get one or two – and being defensively sound. Benzema and the other attacking players they have can kill a game off in an instant, so we have to minimise their opportunities. Then it’s down to hard work and belief. We know we’ll have to come up with something special that day, but hopefully we can get over the line.

Head coach Albert Riera … ‘puts his heart and soul into Auckland City.’  Photo: Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.

What’s Albert Riera like as a coach?

I played with him for a few years and now he’s my coach. He puts his heart and soul into Auckland City, and so does his coaching staff. We have a wonderful set of coaches and everyone gets on very well. Albert’s very detailed. He does a lot of work on tactics. He makes sure we’re very sound defending set-pieces, and works a lot on what we do with the ball, how we can go and win games. The mindset is to keep the ball. You win games with the ball. Albert likes to play a beautiful brand of football.

The Auckland players all have other jobs, careers. How difficult does this make it to train, prepare for matches?

We all go to work during the day and train at nighttime. The only time we train in the morning is on a Saturday if we have a game on the Sunday. I do miss the morning sessions. Players who come from overseas find it strange that we train at night, but it’s non-professional and we’ve got to earn a living. What I would say is that we make it as professional as possible. Despite us all working full-time, we train four to five times a week and then have a game as well. There’s a lot of detail goes into everything we do. I’ve been in professional set-ups, and I know we’re not professional, but there’s really no difference other than training at nighttime. It’s a wonderful atmosphere in the squad – everyone’s pushing each other every day.

Auckland City’s Cam Howieson. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.

What did you make of the All Blacks’ performance in the recent Rugby World Cup final?

I was so proud of the way they played and gave everything for 80 minutes. They only had 14 men for a long period of time. I had my All Blacks’ jersey on that day. They brought the nation together. What spirit, determination. It was a shame for the players who were leaving after the World Cup, but they made the whole country proud.

Is that what Auckland want to repeat at Saudi Arabia 2023?

Yes, that’s what we really want to do: to put Auckland back on the map again and make everyone proud. Look, it’d be lovely to win the Club World Cup, but we have to be realistic. We want to put in a solid performance against world-class players that the club and the country can be proud of. I think we’d all be very happy to win the first game. It would be my — and many others’ — first win in the competition. It would be a dream come true for us.


The interview with Cam Howieson was first published by FIFA.com.


FIFA Club World Cup

Game to be played on Wednesday December 13 (NZT)

Al-Ittihad v Auckland City
King Abdulah Sports City Stadium, 7am (NZT)

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