Deal done! All Whites midfielder Ben Old leaves Phoenix for French Ligue 1 club

New Zealand international Ben Old is the second Wellington Phoenix player to secure a life-changing move to one of the world’s top leagues since the end of the A-League season.

Following the Phoenix men’s record-breaking 2023-24 Isuzu UTE A-League campaign, the attacking midfielder has signed with AS Saint-Étienne, who have recently won promotion back to Ligue 1, after the Phoenix accepted an undisclosed transfer fee from the 10-time French champions.

Main photo: St Etienne announce the signing of All White Ben Old. Photo credit: St Etienne.

It comes a month after goalkeeper Alex Paulsen signed with A.F.C. Bournemouth in England’s Premier League.

“This move means so much to me,” Old said. “All of us young players aspire to go to Europe and see how far we can go in the game.

“One of my biggest goals is to play in the top five leagues for a long period of time.

“I honestly didn’t think it would be happening this early in my career but when Saint-Étienne came to my agent, and I was able to speak to them for the first time I was instantly hooked.

“Saint-Étienne are the second most successful club in French history and the fans are amazing so I can’t wait for it all to get started.”

Old (21) was one of the breakout stars of the Phoenix’s 2023-24 campaign, featuring in all 29 of the team’s A-League matches, scoring five goals, one of which was voted the team’s goal of the season, and contributing four assists.

His performances saw him selected in the A-Leagues All Stars squad in May and he scored the opening goal in their 8-0 demolition of Newcastle United.

Old was also recalled to the All Whites this year after an 18-month absence and started all four of New Zealand’s matches on their way to winning the recent OFC Nations Cup, scoring his maiden senior international goal against hosts Vanuatu in pool play.

New Zealand’s Ben Old is brought down during the All Whites’ recent successful campaign at the OFC Men’s Nations Cup. Photo credit: OFC Media / Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.

Born in Auckland, Old played his  youth football with Forrest Hill Milford United, Hibiscus Coast and North Shore United, before he headed to Wellington.

The move to France brings an end to Old’s six years at the Phoenix, having joined the academy as a teenager in 2018.

“The club has been so important to me, and I’ve enjoyed every second of it.

“I’ve had my ups and downs, but I wouldn’t change anything.

“I want to thank the coaching staff, all of the players and all of the fans who’ve helped me get to where I am now.

“The club’s definitely going to be a part of my life for a long time and I’m going to make sure I’m still going to support the Phoenix and see how they go in the future.”

Phoenix head coach Giancarlo Italiano is thrilled for Old.

“I always knew Oldie had the ability to get to the next level,” Italiano said. “It was more about getting his body right and making sure we built up his minutes so he could showcase his talent.

“He made the most of his chances, the right people were watching at the right time, and he deserves the move.

“When I took over, one of the big strategies of the club was to make sure that we give these young players an opportunity to come into the environment and succeed.

“Oldie’s move aligns with everything that we’re doing and shows we’re on the right path.”

Ben Old … leaves New Zealand to wear the green of St Etienne in France. Photo credit: St Etienne.

Director of football Shaun Gill says today’s another momentous day for the club.

“We’re stoked for Oldie and the Phoenix are proud to have helped him realise his dream of signing with a club in one of the world’s top five leagues,” Gill said.

“He’s the latest academy graduate to make the move to Europe and the coaches and staff at Fraser Park deserve a lot of credit for the role they’ve played in his development.

“We have built a world class high performance pathway at the Nix and we look forward to helping more players take the next step in their football careers.”

Ben Old’s highlights

This story was first published on July 10, 2024.

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