What a season it has been for Derek Tieku. The former Crystal Palace man has been a consistent performer since he made the move to New Zealand in 2016 but this season he has become the man every team has tried to stop.
New Zealand Premiership Team of the Season – check.
New Zealand Premiership MVP – check.
The season may have ended early but that doesn’t mean the forward had any less of an impact. He was not only the star man for his team Hamilton Wanderers but also for the league as a whole. He picked up two big accolades, well deserved after years of hard work since playing football abroad.
Having been scouted by Fulham at a young age, Tieku continued his footballing education with fellow London side Crystal Palace moving to south London at the age of 17.
After a couple of seasons with the Eagles, including a loan spell with Hayes & Yeading, the forward spent some time in non-league with Farnborough before making his first move abroad to join Swedish fourth-tier side Österlen FF for the 2015 season. He played 11 times in Sweden, scoring once before another opportunity arose.
Other side of the world
In New Zealand, there are two football seasons. During their winter, there are several state leagues which take place across the country before the summer season which sees the Premiership take centre stage, the country’s top national league which allows clubs to qualify for continental competition.
After his spell in Sweden, Tieku joined Eastern Subarbs to compete in the highest level of state football on the North Island of the country. The club also competed in the Premiership and after finding his feet in his first season, the former Fulham man fired seven goals in his second campaign, securing a move to fellow Premiership side Hamilton Wanderers.
His time with Hamilton has mirrored his spell with Eastern Subarbs, a season to settle in quietly going about his business and then an explosion. Two goals in 2018/19 led to eight goals in 2019/20 in 16 matches, scoring a third of his team’s goals and winning himself several awards in the process.
With four Premiership seasons under his belt now alongside several in the state leagues, I caught him with New Zealand’s MVP to learn more about his spell playing on the other side of the world.
English Players Abroad: How much did you enjoy your upbringing in the Fulham and Crystal Palace academies, they must have been great places to develop?
Derek Tieku: I was scouted for the Fulham academy at age 10 by Fiona Armfield, and continued through the age groups for another 10 years. Within this time the club gave me a lot of experience and technical development not only through playing abroad and against other high level clubs, but working along side their high-calibre coaching staff.
I worked with a lot of amazing people during my time at the academy who I am still in contact with now. After Fulham, I then signed a professional contract with Crystal Palace for the first team. The chance to train along side many high profile players gave me huge insight to the game and I learned a lot about myself as a player.
EPA: How did the move to New Zealand first come about, was it just for footballing reasons?
DT: First of all I didn’t actually know where New Zealand was and therefore anything about the country itself. I had previously been playing in Sweden and found myself looking for a new football venture. My contact brought up the idea of going to New Zealand for six months, enough time to play in the winter league. Finishing the winter league my club had just received their licences to play in the ISPS Handa Premiership, which kept me here for another six months. Six months then turned into over three years and here I am!
EPA: How does the standard of the New Zealand Premiership compare to what you’ve played in England?
DT: Previously playing in a Premier League club not many other opportunities can come close to that standard of football, however New Zealand and the players here continue to offer me many challenges within the game. The game is rapidly developing and this can be seen within the increasing number of foreigners wanting to come to New Zealand and play.
EPA: How was the lifestyle in NZ? Is it an enjoyable place to live?
DT: From not knowing what to expect when flying over from the other side of the world, I continue to be mesmerised by New Zealand’s beauty, which may be a reason as to why I have continued to stay and play. In my free time when I am not training or playing I am out enjoying what New Zealand has to offer.
EPA: Were you on a full-time contract in and were you training everyday in NZ?
DT: I am on a full-time contract here in New Zealand alongside coaching at my respective club. The amount of team training can vary from winter to summer leagues, however I do get time to go to the gym and work on my strength and conditioning.
EPA: This season was superb for you as you were one of the standout players in the league, what do you think clicked for you this season?
DT: Before this season I worked really hard on my personal pre-season training. Moving closer to my current club also allowed me more time to focus on my training, to prepare both physically and mentally. Alongside this, my club and team mates have a great community spirit where we continue to work together to achieve a common goal.
EPA: Finally, what are you hopes for the future?
DT: I hope to continue my football journey, as being able to work in a job that is your passion is incredible. I’d like to revisit a professional set up in Europe, whether that be in England or another adventure somewhere new.