The future of Auckland FC — the young players signed on scholarship contracts

By Henry Lee

While Auckland FC’s first signings were high-profile All Whites, the club’s scholarship contract players were less well-known.

All Northern League players, the six scholarship signings have all been in and around New Zealand’s national age group squads, and they represent the future of Auckland’s A-League expansion club.

Main photo: Scholarship signings (from left) Liam Gillion, Oliver Middletony, Luis Toomey, Finn McKenlay, Jonty Bidois and Adam Coulibaly. Photo credit: Auckland FC social media.

Here’s more information about the half-dozen players who were revealed in mid-June as the club’s first intake of scholarship players …

Luis Toomey

22, attacking midfielder, signed from Eastern Suburbs

Luis Toomey.

Toomey, a former Wellington Phoenix reserves player, has represented New Zealand at age group level.

He was a member of the U-23 OlyWhites squad that successfully qualified for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Toomey can play multiple positions in the attacking third, making him a captivating prospect for coach Steve Corica’s side.

Toomey is a crafty attacking midfielder who enjoys creating chances for his team. He can create something out of nothing, and his dribbling prowess sets him apart from teammates when he has possession of the ball.

Often seen drifting wide and picking up the ball in wide positions, Toomey excels with the ball at his feet, taking on players and delivering crosses into the box.

Although we are yet to see the specific style of play Corica’s side will play, having creative options like this will significantly add to the positive, free-flowing football that will get Auckland football supporters through the turnstiles.

Finn McKenlay

18, midfielder, signed from Eastern Suburbs

Finn McKenlay.

The second youngest Auckland FC signing so far, McKenlay will be looking to stake his claim as one of the country’s most promising teenagers.

McKenlay burst onto the Northern League scene this year, after graduating from Westlake Boys High School last year.

He was part of multiple title-winning teams in 2023, featuring in the Westlake Boys High School First XI team that won the National Secondary Schools title in Christchurch, and the Birkenhead U-19 men’s team that won the Napier U-19 national tournament.

McKenlay was named College Sports Footballer of the Year in 2023 and was recently named in the OFC Men’s U-19 Championship New Zealand squad by head coach Chris Greenacre.

READ MORE: New Zealand squad named for OFC Men’s U-19 Championship tournament >>>>

This year, McKenlay has featured predominantly in central midfield for Eastern Suburbs.

A box-to-box role could be on the cards at his new club, as his height and athleticism will be useful all around the park. The ball retention, possession-based football at Eastern Suburbs will have helped his all-round game.

Jonty Bidois

19, forward, signed from Tauranga City

Jonty Bidois.

Jonty Bidois is the brother of New Zealand U-23 striker Riley Bidois, who currently plays for USL Championship side Loudoun United in Virginia.

READ MORE: New Zealand U-23 striker Riley Bidois signs with United States club >>>>

Jonty Bidois has been part of Tauranga Boys High School’s football programme and followed his brother into senior football, playing for Tauranga City.

The younger Bidois has impressed this season, scoring 12 goals in 13 games in this year’s Northern League.

This followed a remarkable season in 2023, when he won the Golden Boot in Tauranga City’s title-winning campaign in the Lotto NRFL Men’s Championship.

He scored 22 goals for the season, including 15 in the last 11 fixtures.

His off-the-ball movement is exceptional, and his clinical finishing demonstrates the potential he has to develop when he trains and plays in a professional environment.

Liam Gillion

21, winger, signed from Auckland City

Liam Gillion.

After his gradual integration from squad player to first team starter, Gillion proved his readiness for top-level football with his performances for Auckland City at the most recent OFC Men’s Champions League in Tahiti.

His goals and all-round player earned him the Player of the Tournament.

After playing his junior football with Auckland clubs Drury and Manurewa, Gillion played his youth football for Wellington’s Western Suburbs.

He returned north to join Auckland City in 2022.

In December 2023, he was a member of City’s squad at the FIFA Club World Cup in Jeddah, and played a full 90 minutes in the 3-0 loss to Al-Ittihad in front of 50,248 spectators — invaluable big game experience.

The right winger/midfielder has made two appearances for the U-23 national team, playing in last year’s OFC Men’s Olympic Qualifiers.

At 178cm, he’s not the tallest of forwards in the game but his pace and ball control compensate, and he has a powerful shot in his locker.

Over the past couple of years, his ability to beat players one-on-one and create big chances for his team has significantly improved.

Adama Coulibaly

19, midfielder/defender, signed from Western Springs

Adama Coulibaly.

Predominantly a midfielder, Coulibaly has played for Western Springs since his junior team days, and came through Mt Albert Grammar School, where he learned football but also was a representative athlete sprinter adept over 100 metres.

He has now proven himself as a consistent performer in the Northern League.

Coulibaly has shown his versatility as a player this year, playing centre-back a couple of times for Western Springs’ first team.

In August 2023, he was a late call-up for the New Zealand U-23 squad to play in the OFC Men’s Olympic qualifying tournament, joining Luis Toomey and Liam Gillion in the national camp.

READ MORE: Players get late call-up to New Zealand team for OFC Olympic qualifiers >>>>

Though he wasn’t needed for the tournament, his selection by head coach Darren Bazeley can be seen as an endorsement of his ability.

Coulibaly has been included in the New Zealand team for the OFC Men’s U-19 Championship in July.

READ MORE: New Zealand squad named for OFC Men’s U-19 Championship tournament >>>>

Oliver Middleton

18, midfielder, signed from Auckland United

Oliver Middleton.

Central midfielder Middleton has been a consistent starter for Auckland United’s first team for the past couple of Northern League seasons, rattling up more than 50 first team appearances by the age of 18.

A graduate the Auckland United’s academy, Middleton has been at the club since he was nine.

Middleton has been part of New Zealand’s national age group set-up, attending U-17 training camps since 2015.

Middleton has also joined McKenlay and Coulibaly in the OFC Men’s U-19 Championship squad to play in Samoa from July 5-18.

READ MORE: New Zealand squad named for OFC Men’s U-19 Championship tournament >>>>

Middleton may not be the tallest and biggest midfielder going around, but he sure makes up for it in work rate and technical ability, being a mainstay in Jose Figuiera’s Auckland United engine room.

He’s Auckland FC’s youngest signing so far.

Auckland FC have stated their aim is to develop young talent from the Auckland region.

Head coach Steve Corica said: “These new appointments just reinforce our commitment to Auckland and football in New Zealand.

“Developing local players is at the core of what we do, and these early announcements reflect that.”

Who else is on board?

READ MORE: Three All Whites and U-23 international unveiled as first signings for Auckland FC  >>>>

READ MORE: Two more All Whites added to the Auckland FC men’s A-League roster >>>>

LISTEN: Foreign signings likely to come later, says Auckland FC coach Corica >>>>

Henry Lee

Henry Lee is an Auckland-based journalism student who co-presents the Sideline Yarns podcast.

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