Rojas living the dream

Marco Rojas freely admits he has no idea what he would be doing with his life if he wasn't playing football.

Marco Rojas freely admits he has no idea what he would be doing with his life if he wasn't playing football.

The 19-year-old can't remember a time when he didn't have a ball at his feet. Despite rugby's obvious foothold in New Zealand's sporting culture Rojas' love of football is not so surprising when you learn his dad Roddy is from Chile and the young Rojas grew up in Hamilton being shown footage of Diego Maradona in his pomp.

"He is the player I try and emulate, the way he was going past players and things like that," Rojas said.

More modern influences are Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

"The ones that aren't scared to use their tricks on the field," Rojas added.

Rojas, who signed with the Phoenix in 2009 after winning a scholarship awarded by Phoenix supporters club, Yellow Fever, has a few tricks of his own and hasn't been afraid to unleash them this season either.

Coach Ricki Herbert has taken a cautious approach with his young attacking midfielder after his early career in Wellington was stymied by an ankle injury that eventually required surgery.

It kept Rojas out of action for six months but has done nothing to curb his confidence, speed or skill on the ball as Melbourne Victory, Sydney, Adelaide, Gold Coast and, latterly, Newcastle found out in the past month.

"It was tough not being able to kick the ball (when I was recovering from surgery). It's all you want to do. But I knew if I got my ankle better I'd be able to push for a place in the team and luckily it's all worked out," Rojas says.

After cameo appearances off the bench, Rojas was handed his first start against the Jets at Westpac Stadium last Saturday and shone in the opening half where he set up goals for Tim Brown and Chris Greenacre and scored his maiden goal as a professional.

"I was in a bit of shock. I kind of ran away and I wasn't sure what had happened," he laughed. "It soon sunk in though and it's a really good feeling."

Despite gaining plenty of plaudits for his recent performances, Rojas certainly isn't getting carried away by the hype and praise that has come his way and still finds himself, alongside young defender James Musa, with the pre and post-training duties reserved for the younger members of football squads.

"It's normal for me to come to training early and set up the bottles and goals with James," said Rojas. "There's going to be no change just because I've played one game."

It's certainly a far cry from cleaning boots and doing other chores for senior players that some youngsters find themselves doing at clubs in the UK.

"I've heard from Chris (Greenacre) and Paul (Ifill) that they've done some pretty outrageous things so I'm happy to just do the bottles and goals," added Rojas with a grin.

What his performances will have done is make opposition players scrutinise him more closely, but again the livewire midfielder, who is equally comfortable playing off both feet, is unperturbed.

"I suppose they know a little bit more about me than what they did before but my game is always going to be the same," he said. "I've got plenty of different tricks that I can use and one-on-one it's not going to change too much."

Ultimately the ambition is to play for New Zealand.

"Everyone dreams of playing for their country. Hopefully I'll get to go to a World Cup and do that as well," he said.

The main priority at the moment though, remains getting the Phoenix, currently seventh, into the finals.

As for life outside of football and away from his family in Hamilton, Rojas is settling into that too.

He has friends studying in Wellington he catches up with and his cooking skills have improved enormously.

"I've actually cooked a good chicken fettuccine. I had a look on the internet and saw the recipe and thought it can't be that hard. It's probably the best meal I've cooked," he said.