By Henry Lee
New club, new coach, new owners and, importantly, the chance to start with a new squad of players.
That’s the proposition for the yet-to-be-named Auckland A-League expansion club as they prepare to enter the men’s competition for the 2024-25 season.
Recently-appointed head coach Steve Corica says recruiting suitable players is one of his main priorities, especially New Zealand players.
Starting with a clean sheet comes with its challenges, and Corica’s notepad is no doubt filling with names of potential candidates.
Here are five young New Zealanders Corica might want to add to his shopping list …
Main photo: New Zealand’s Riley Bidois scores against Fiji in September’s OFC Men’s Olympic Qualifier. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.
Eastern Suburbs’ attacking midfielder Luis Toomey (22) tops this list, and for good reason.
Last season, he proved himself as one of the best players in the National League, making the team of the season for 2023.
With an impressive campaign for the OlyWhites, Toomey’s ability to create chances and all-around footballing IQ make him an outstanding option for Corica’s side.
Securing the signature of top Kiwi talent like this has to be at the top of the priority list, as we have seen players make the trip around the world to kick-start their footballing careers.
Toomey will no doubt have those offers there for the taking, and to offer him a role in this exciting new project, will hopefully mean we will see Luis Toomey playing football in New Zealand for a long time.
Striker Riley Bidois (21) has been a free agent since finishing a spell with Australian club Dandenong City.
The New Zealand U-23 international poses a great option for the new club as the need for local attacking talent is key for the make-up of the squad, assuming that a couple of the import spots will be taken by proven attackers.
Coach Corica will need up-and-coming talent to boost his stocks and Bidois is ideal for the job.
A young clinical goalscorer with brilliant hold-up play would be a great asset.
The signature of this young man could be a strong catch, as he has been floating in and around other A-league clubs.
Winger Norman Garbett (19) is the brother of All White Matt Garbett and has shown he’s capable on the big stage, scoring the winning goal in New Zealand’s group win against Guatemala at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Argentina.
His versatility makes him an asset to any team as he’s able to play all positions in a front three.
Garbett has been learning his trade in Italy at Potenza Youth, but has become a free agent.
Though he’s likely to be looking overseas for his next contract, a return home to be part of Auckland’s new venture might be enough to tempt him.
Right winger Joe Lee (21) is another young player coming through the Auckland City ranks with a huge future.
Lee is a perfect example of an attacking player who is a nightmare to defend against. His pure pace brings his ball skills into play.
He has represented New Zealand at age group level and has showcased his talent in the national league for a couple of years.
A player with a confident attacking mindset is hard to come by, and Lee fits the bill.
*Joe Lee is no relation.
New Zealand U-23 international left back Nathan Lobo (22) is young, smart and with bags of talent.
His ability to deliver dangerous crosses into the box and create chances separates him from other local options.
The Wellington Phoenix have been looking after winger and age group international Gabriel Edward Sloane-Rodrigues but any hint that he might be available should draw attention from the expansion club.
Two Eastern Suburbs players, both age group internationals, should also be on the watchlist — goalkeeper Joe Knowles and defender Aaryan Raj.
The Wellington Phoenix have elevated a number of up-and-coming youngsters this year — goalkeeper Alex Paulsen and defender Lukas Kelly-Heald are prime examples — but they have had the advantage of developing these players through their academy and reserve team.
The new Auckland club won’t have the luxury, at first, of being able to bring through their own talent, so their initial recruitment of young local players will be an important factor.
Henry Lee is an Auckland-based journalism student who co-presents the Sideline Yarns podcast.