The phrase “building a dream” means more than most to Team Wellington skipper Justin Gulley.
Since he dropped out of the professional game with the A-League’s Wellington Phoenix in 2016, the left-back has been pursuing a builder’s apprenticeship by day and OFC Champions League success with TeeDubs by night.
This hard graft paid off, in spades, this year. Not only were a first trio of New Zealand international caps earned, but the breaking of Auckland City’s stranglehold, since 2011, on Oceania means Gulley will have the honour of leading his side out against Al Ain on Wednesday night at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium when the Club World Cup kicks off.
Sport360 caught up with the 25-year-old to discuss his work/life balance, dreams of meeting holders Real Madrid in the UAE and much more.
You’ve had a breakthrough year, with winning the OFC Champions League and making your debut for New Zealand. What would success at the Club World Cup mean to you?
It would be an awesome way to cap off the year. It has been quite a big year for me, personally.
Just to do well here will mean a lot. I really, really want to make my mark here – it is the same for the rest of the boys.
Getting some good success here will be massive for us, massive for the club and it will be good for New Zealand football back home.
There are a lot of people wanting us to do well.
You’ve been in the professional game before. Is the Club World Cup a showcase to get back with an A-League contract?
It definitely is. There will be a lot of eyes watching and if you perform well on the international stage, who knows what can happen?
I am sure doors can open up anywhere. I am just going to put my best foot forward.
It is about having that belief, and showing what we can do. I know we are good enough to do it.
We need to be brave and then who knows what can happen?
GALLERY | 📸 First look at Hazza Bin Sayed Stadium today ahead of our first game tomorrow.— Team Wellington ⚫️🔶 (@TeamWelly) December 11, 2018
View the full album here 👉 https://t.co/GngXlbd89x#FullThrottle #Weready #OurMoment pic.twitter.com/WV8CdiY4LW
What is your day-to-day life like, as an amateur?
At the moment, I am working on a building site and doing my apprenticeship to become a qualified builder.
It is a long, heavy day of work and then, sometimes, it can be quite taxing on the body. Then it is training at night.
But when you have opportunities like this, then you just find a way to push through it.
I’m working five days a week, for 40 hours. Big weeks, but it keeps me fit at the same time.
For the last seven years, Auckland City were in this competition. Can you give us an insight into the rivalry between the teams?
It is a really good rivalry that we have with Auckland. They’ve been pretty dominant in the seven years running.
We knew we had to work extra hard and we really wanted to topple them this year. Beating them in the semi-finals was a huge confidence boost.
We almost felt like we could do anything.
It is still a very healthy rivalry. We look forward to playing them and I think they look forward to playing us, too.
We are constantly putting each other under pressure.
Have you guys allowed yourselves to look ahead to possibly playing the likes of Real Madrid?
You cannot help but think about those things. The chances of playing Real Madrid or River Plate… those opportunities play on your mind.
We are not looking too far ahead of ourselves. We know we have a huge test against Al Ain.
You’ll probably be up against Hussein El Shahat, who is an Egypt international. Al Ain also have Sweden target man Marcus Berg, plus many other internationals. What is it like knowing you’ll be testing yourself against these guys?
It is a great opportunity, really. Coming up against internationals and top-class players is a great opportunity for the boys and myself to prove ourselves and see what we are made of.
It is a good showcase for what we can do. We are all really looking forward to it.
You’ve been in the UAE for about a week. What have you made of it?
We were in Abu Dhabi, for a bit. We had a good little spot there.
We didn’t get too much sightseeing done. When we arrived, we went to Dubai Mall.
It was pretty impressive, really. The scale of the place is just crazy and a lot of us hadn’t seen a place that big.
Looking around Dubai, it was a pretty impressive place. Now in Al Ain, we are up in the mountains and get to look over everything.
What are the key things against Al Ain?
The key for us is to have belief and hold no fear. I really think we are good enough to take them, as long as we believe.
We cannot go into our shells and panic. There will be tough times, as long as we stick together, that is huge for me.
The 2018 CWC will bring together six continental champions – holders Real Madrid, Asia’s Kashima Antlers, Africa’s Esperance de Tunis, Central America’s Chivas Guadalajara, Oceania’s Team Wellington plus South America’s River Plate – and host team Al Ain. Visit www.fifa.com/clubworldcup for more information and www.fifacwc.ae/tickets to buy tickets.
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