Sarpreet Singh’s jaw-dropping move to Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich has broken down barriers for young New Zealand footballers, according to Wellington Phoenix starlet Liberato Cacace.
In one of the biggest stories of the Hyundai A-League off-season so far, Singh swapped Wellington for Munich after signing a three-year deal with the German giants.
Like Singh, Cacace was one of the breakout stars for the Phoenix last season, both playing key roles as the club made the Finals Series for the first time in four years.
Having come through the youth ranks together in New Zealand – including playing at the recent U-20 FIFA World Cup – Cacace knows the sacrifices Singh has made to earn his dream move.
And as well as serving as an inspiration to Kiwi youngsters, the exciting left-back believes Singh’s transfer will open up doors for New Zealand footballers.
“It’s a big move for him because it’s one of the biggest clubs in the world but training and playing alongside him, he worked hard every day so it’s just reward for all his hard work,” Cacace told a-league.com.au.
“The move is a big eye-opener for us young boys in New Zealand, he’s given us the belief to step up into Europe.
“It also shows us that the step to Europe is not that big, it’s a very realistic step from the A-League to Europe.
“It’s good for us young New Zealanders and Aussie boys in the A-League to see that.”
Singh and Cacace are just two of what is becoming an impressive production line of talent coming through the Phoenix ranks.
Teenager Ben Waine (18) has signed a senior deal for the upcoming season, while the likes of Callan Elliot (20) and Callum McCowatt (20) are also on the Phoenix’s books.
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Asked the reason behind the emergence of so many talented youngsters in Wellington, Cacace said: “I think it’s the belief the coaches have shown here at the Phoenix.
“The coaches have put a lot of belief into the young ones and I don’t think it’s been shown around the league as much as it has at the Phoenix.
“The coaches have shown faith in the young boys and we’ve been delivering as well.
“And with this coach [Ufuk Talay] I think you will see a lot more New Zealand young boys out there…there’s a lot of fresh New Zealand talent coming through.”
And the youngsters are set to be given plenty of responsibility in 2019/20, with the Phoenix squad undergoing an extensive rebuild this off-season.
The likes of skipper Andrew Durante, Golden Boot winner Roy Krishna, star attacker David Williams, midfielder Mandi and experienced defender Tom Doyle have all departed the club.
But the loss of so many players that were integral to last season’s success has dampened Cacace’s confidence of what Phoenix can deliver in the upcoming campaign.
“We’ve already set our bar high. We’re not there just to be another number in the league,” the 18-year-old said
“We want to be strong contenders to win the league. I’ve got a lot of belief and I’m very optimistic. We’re not considered as underdogs anymore.
“We showed last season what we can do and this season we need to build on that, do better and get higher up that ladder.”
On an individual level, Cacace knows he must keep developing and is confident he won’t succumb to any threats of ‘second-year syndrome’.
“Obviously everyone [around the A-League] knows me a bit more but I’m looking forward to the challenge,” he said.
“People have set high standards for me but also I’ve set standards for myself and I’m looking forward to taking that bar to a new level this season.
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“Ufuk is a very tactically minded coach and he can help me with a few technical things in my game that I need to improve on.
“I’m looking forward to the season ahead and raising that bar higher.”