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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 April 2019

Craig Henderson: Former Team Wellington star backs old club to make most of Fifa Club World Cup in UAE

Former New Zealand midfielder now lives in Abu Dhabi and is acting as a local liaison for the club during their time here for the Fifa Club World Cup

Craig Henderson played for Team Wellington during the club's first season and is now head of football at Abu Dhabi Cricket. Leslie Pableo for The National
Craig Henderson played for Team Wellington during the club's first season and is now head of football at Abu Dhabi Cricket. Leslie Pableo for The National

Former New Zealand and Team Wellington midfielder Craig Henderson believes the Fifa Club World Cup in the UAE could provide players from his old team the chance to grab the attention of professional clubs.

In a battle of the Club World Cup debutants, semi-professional Wellington take on host champions Al Ain in a play-off at the Hazza bin Zayed stadium on Wednesday. The winner progresses to the quarter-finals and a showdown with CAF Champions League winners Esperance de Tunis.

Wellington’s participation – earned by winning the Oceania Champions League – ends the domination of Auckland City, who competed in nine previous Club World Cups, including the past seven.

Henderson took great pleasure in witnessing his former club end Auckland’s run, and he is backing Wellington to make the most of their Club World Cup experience.

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Read more:

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“When that happens, we never know what can follow for the boys to be on the world stage,” he told The National. “And then, you never know, opportunities may come to the players. So that’s part of the Club World Cup for guys at Team Wellington.”

Henderson played for Wellington when the club was founded in 2004. He moved to the United States for his education and played for Dartmouth Big Green – the Ivy League university’s team, where he was unanimously named Ivy Player of the Year in 2008.

He began his professional career in 2010 at Swedish club Mjallby AIF, but after suffering a ruptured Anterior cruciate ligament injury during pre-season, did not make his league debut until August 2012. Henderson then moved to Norwegian side Stabaek, but injuries once again limited his involvement and he spent the second half of the 2015 season on loan at Mjondalen.

A move back to Sweden followed and Henderson spent the 2016 season at GAIS, before returning to the United States where he played for NASL team Indy Eleven in 2017.

Henderson made two appearances for the New Zealand senior team, making his debut in October 2013 against Trinidad and Tobago. He also represented his country at the Under-20 World Cup and the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, where he had the opportunity to play against a Brazil side that featured Ronaldinho, Marcelo and Thiago Silva. “That’s something I’ll never forget,” he said.

Now in Abu Dhabi after joining his wife, Ali – a professor at Zayed University – in the Emirate, Henderson is acting as a local liaison for Wellington, and has helped the club with his knowledge of the UAE.

“I’m excited to see them here, representing the city and the country,” said Henderson, who retired from professional football last year and now heads Abu Dhabi Cricket’s football section.

“I know a few of the players at Wellington and most of them are young and exciting talents. Essentially most of the players are amateur and will have another job.

“They train as professionals, though. They train four to five days a week putting everything as professionals. It’s very commendable what they do in addition to having a job.

“There are some guys that have professional experience and have come back. They have a good mix of experience and youth.”

Wellington are being billed as “underdogs” at the Club World Cup by their manager Jose Figueira, and given the circumstances it’s understandable to see why. Their clash against Al Ain will be the club’s first competitive match against a professional team from another continent.

However, Henderson is expecting a competitive game and has warned against writing off Wellington’s chances.

“I think it’s going to be a lot closer than what people would expect,” he said. “I think Wellington have got a very good chance of a good result

“Al Ain are one of the top teams in the UAE so they have some real talented players. They are obviously the favourites, but all the pressure will be on them as the tournament host and I really think Wellington has a good chance.”

Updated: December 11, 2018 01:17 PM

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