Defender Ali Riley has been named as the new captain of the Football Ferns.
The 29-year-old American-born Kiwi, who made her debut for New Zealand against Australia in 2007, has captained the Ferns on four occasions previously and will lead the team as they look to peak for the pinnacle events – the 2019 FIFA World Cup in France and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Riley, a member of the Ferns’ exclusive 100 club as one of only six centurions, takes over the captaincy from Abby Erceg who retired from international football following the Cyprus Cup in March.
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Football Ferns coach Tony Readings said it was an easy decision to hand Riley the captain’s armband.
“Ali has always been a key leader in our environment from the moment that she came into the team,” he said. “She made her debut in 2007 and she has a whole lot of leadership qualities that have grown since that time.”
Riley, who plays for one of the world’s leading clubs FC Rosengard in Sweden, is one of the Ferns’ standout players. In March, she earned a massive personal achievement after being shortlisted for the 2016 World XI. The initiative is run by global players association FIFPro and was voted on by more than 3000 players from 47 countries. Riley was one of 20 defenders among the nominees.
The well-liked Riley is excited to be the new captain of the Football Ferns.
“It’s the greatest honour I will ever have in my career,” she said from Sweden. “It’s more important to me than any accolade or trophy. This team has been my family for the last 10 years, and to be able to be lead them onto the pitch is a dream come true.”
Readings said Riley has moved to a point in her career where she is a natural selection for the Ferns.
“She leads completely by example. She lives the values of our team pretty much perfectly as a player. She leaves everything on the pitch but also off the pitch she is a very proactive person and is just what this team needs to keep pushing us forward.”
Readings said the Ferns have achieved so much in the past 10 years, but this period is a good chance to reassess and build again towards the pinnacle events with a new approach with Riley in charge.
“Abby led the team excellently for the last four years and now with Ali coming in we will have a new approach to help keep evolving the team. Women’s football has grown so quickly on the world stage so as soon as you start slowing down with your progression other teams will move past you. You have to keep on progressing every day.”
Listen to an interview with Football Ferns coach Tony Readings on naming Ali Riley as the new captain of his team
Riley said her goal as captain is to be a player and person that her teammates can rely on for support and fight for them both on and off the field.
“I am constantly thinking about the Ferns, and I have ideas to help move this team forward that I’m eager to put into place as we move into this next cycle.”
Readings, the New Zealand coach with the most A International victories, said Riley could not wait to get started as captain.
“Ali is such a proud and passionate person who loves playing for New Zealand,” he said. “It means so much to her and you can tell that by the way that she plays. A lot of what she does is about playing for her country so to now lead New Zealand will be one of the highlights of her career. She will take the challenge with both hands and use it to improve everyone but also herself as a player.”
Riley said with key players, like Erceg and forward Sarah Gregorius, retiring from international football this squad is going to face some challenges in the next cycle.
“Leading the team into this time might be scary to some people, but I have a really positive feeling about this team and, given some time, what we can look like,” she said.
“I’m excited to encourage the new and younger players as they get the opportunity to show the world what the next generation of Ferns has to offer while continuing to push our veterans to take their game to the next level. We are all going to have to step up in order to be a threat in France 2019.”