ASB Premiership: After so many seasons with Canterbury United and Otago United why the move to Auckland?
Stuart Kelly: The main reason was I had a contract on offer in Iceland that fell through and basically I spoke to Auckland City and they wanted to bring me back over. Auckland City play a lot more games mainly because they are involved in the O-League and the club has been the benchmark in the ASB Premiership since it began back in 2004. With Otago United, I had to train by myself then travel for games and I also wanted a break from that.
ASB Premiership: Did you find it difficult to leave behind Otago United?
Stuart Kelly: I felt bad about leaving the boys at Otago United. The club goes through a lot of changes each season – that’s just the nature of the game down there – players go overseas or choose to do other things. Nathan Knox has been backward and forward between Otago and overseas for the last couple of years, we’ve been mates since our Canterbury United days on and off the pitch. In football things change and I wanted to train and play more at a higher level.
ASB Premiership: How do you find fitting in alongside what is largely a youthful Auckland City squad?
Stuart Kelly: My first goal is to get over an injury I’ve been carrying which thankfully I’ve done now and establish myself at the club. The match with Waitakere United in the O-League was my first 90 minutes with the club and I was anxious for that to happen.
There are a lot of young players in the squad and myself and Riki van Steeden are the two oldest – he may be about four years older than me. Whether they pick us is up to the coaches. They are trying to get us to play a certain way, it’s a process and it takes time, basically it’s about finding what the right balance is. The ASB Premiership is always important, of course, but our main aim is to win the O-League and get the club back onto the international stage.
ASB Premiership: How do you find working with two coaches in Aaron MacFarland and Ramn Tribulietx?
Stuart Kelly: Yeah, I’ve seen this system overseas to different degrees and it’s worked, right enough. Aaron and Ramon are very much on the same wavelength and they set the tactics and the way we want to play. They give us ideas and options and it’s up to us to play to those ideals.
There is no conflict there, it’s quite clear what they want us to achieve. At the moment its working fine. It’s a young squad there’s been a lot of changes we still have to get results. At the minute we’re performing well but not winning. Over time we’ll come right.
ASB Premiership: Is there extra pressure on this year’s squad because of Auckland City’s achievements at the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2009?
Stuart Kelly: Yeah, I think so. But it is also a carrot for players who want to go on and emulate last year’s team and play on the big stage and in that environment. There is pressure but our main goal is the O-League but what happens after that will take care of itself.
ASB Premiership: Who are some of the characters you’ve come across during your career?
Stuart Kelly: Being at Rangers between the age of 10 and 20 years of age, I was at Ibrox during the 9-in-a-row era. There were a lot of Scottish players there at the time, famous players, and they all played hard, trained hard and partied hard and back then that’s what worked.
Ally McCoist, Iain Durrant and Ian Ferguson were all there and then of course Paul Gascoigne arrived. “Gazza” took everyone by suprise when he arrived at Rangers because he was just a law unto himself. There were a lot of funny moments during that time but most of them are unprintable!
In New Zealand, James Reichwin, who is a barber – not that I need to visit him – he was involved with Canterbury United but never really got a shot and was at Otago last year. James is always having a laugh and something’s always going on with him, similar to Nathan Knox. At Auckland City, Adam Dickinson. He’s from Liverpool so he’s always got something to say, usually inappropriate.
ASB Premiership: Which players have impressed you in your time in New Zealand?
Stuart Kelly: Its gone through different phases here, but early on the two South Africans, Keryn Jordan and Grant Young were unstoppable at one stage. Luis Corrales had a season at Team Wellington where he was in top form.
Benjamin Totori and Alick Maemae at YoungHeart Manawatu, well...they were all good individuals but they also played for teams that were set up to exploit those top qualities which helped a lot.
At Canterbury United we were always more of a team rather than individuals. But for me, Totori and Jordan were different class. If you had a highlight reel for them it would be some viewing.
ASB Premiership: Which coaches have been a major influence on your career?
Stuart Kelly: They all bring different things at different times. In Scotland there were a fair few - Archie Knox brought me to Rangers but it didn’t work out and I found myself in the wilderness after that. I came to New Zealand and found the pace of the game was different.
Danny Halligan sat me out for the first half of my first season in New Zealand until I got myself right. I think Danny would admit it worked out well for the team and myself in the end. Terry Phelan was good bringing me to Otago United, training in Christchurch and joining up with the team every week. Its not easy to play a guy like that, so I should thank him for that.
ASB Premiership: What are the main differences between Waitakere and Auckland?
Stuart Kelly: Waitakere United play a more traditional 4-4-2 English-style of play, they want to get the ball forward and live off your mistakes. At Auckland City we try to play a little more like Barcelona or Spain set-up. The problem at the minute we haven’t quite got the balance right.
I would say we’re very different teams. In the first derby game we lost the individual battles. In the O-League we were a bit more aggressive and the balance was a bit better. I think we had the better of the game. But I don’t think there is much difference between the two teams at all.