Sail wants to take back the number one goalkeeper jersey from Paulsen

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Wellington Phoenix goalkeeper Oliver Sail has nothing but praise for Alex Paulsen stepping in and excelling during his injury absence, but he says he is ready to take back his starting XI spot.

It was a scary moment for Nix fans when their star goalkeeper and vice-captain Sail, limped off the field at the 30-minute mark in their match against Sydney FC on December 19.

The side’s only replacement at the time was a relatively unknown 19-year-old named Paulsen, a keeper who was yet to play a single minute of A-Leagues football.

But during the seven weeks that Sail has been sidelined with a hip flexor injury, Paulsen – who is known as ‘AP’ by his teammates – has looked like anything but a rookie.

In fact, he has excelled.

The New Zealand under-23 representative became a club hero thanks to what he did during Wellington’s FFA cup quarter-final against Melbourne City at the beginning of the new year.

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After keeping a clean sheet for 120 minutes, Paulsen went on to make three outstanding saves during the game-deciding penalty shootout. These saves secured the Nix their maiden semi-final appearance in the competition, a moment that will go down in the Phoenix history books.

Sail has helped mentor the academy product during his time on the sidelines, and believes Paulsen is one of the best young talents in the League. But, even so, after speaking to the media during the week, it is clear the Auckland native wants nothing more than a starting jersey.

“AP has been superb you know,” Sail said.

“He’s shown that for a young guy who hasn’t had the experience at this level, that he can compete, which is awesome to see. But, if I’m honest, I don’t feel bad that I may be taking the jersey off him, it’s my job.”

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Sail admitted that part of his determination to get back the starting spot was due to how long he had waited to get it in the first place. He finally claimed a role in the first choice 11 for Wellington just last year, after enduring more than five seasons sitting on the bench.

To the delight of both fans and Sail himself, it seemed that his patience paid off when he finally got his chance and went on to lead the league in saves-per-game during a breakout season.

So after so much waiting, it is understandable why the 26-year-old is extremely keen to get the gloves back on and join the starting 11 again. 

“You know, I had to take the jersey off someone to get here in the first place, and even then it took me a lot longer than I wanted, so I’m not in a hurry to give that jersey back up,” he said.

“It’s fantastic to see Alex do well, but at the end of the day I’m here to play football and do my best for the club, so in order to do so I need that jersey back.”

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Despite being one of the best goalkeepers in the competition last year, and being named vice-captain by coach Ufuk Talay to begin the season, Sail also was not expecting to just be handed back his spot when he returns.

The Kiwi goal stopper said the starting role “was not even necessarily his” due to the performances Paulsen has put in while he has been out.

No matter who Talay does decide to go with, Sail suggests that teammates fighting for starting spots is very healthy for any professional sports team, and the Nix are no different.

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“There is no doubt that I will have to perform now that AP has shown what he can do,” Sail said.

“I think back to last year, having [Stefan] Marinovic nipping at my heels, that’s what motivated me to play well. That’s what keeps you on your toes because you know you have someone knocking on the door, trying to take that jersey off you.”

Sail was optimistic he would be ready to go for Wellington’s next match-up with Macarthur FC on Sunday night. Whether the veteran is given back the gloves straight away is something both rival players, fans and teammates will be watching closely.

However, no matter what happens, with both Sail and Paulsen on their roster it seems that the goalkeeper position at Wellington is in some very good hands.

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Feature image credit: Cameron Mclntosh

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Harry Bartle
Harry is a young Journalist based in Wellington. He will be covering the Wellington Phoenix during the 2021/22 season for the Football Sack and has a love hate relationship with Ulises Davila

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