If you asked any young footballer what his dream is, chances are he’d say to play in the World Cup Finals.
“The whole experience has only made me want to play at the senior World Cup and to become a professional footballer even more,” said Bradley, “and it’s motivated me to work as hard as I can to make those things happen.
“It was unforgettable,” he enthuses. “We played Mexico and Argentina in warm up games in Argentina, and then in the finals we were based in capital city Brasilia, where we played Angola, Brazil and Canada. It was a surreal experience as we were treated so professionally, staying in a top hotel with security everywhere and a police escort to trainings etc. It really gave us a taste of life as professionals.”
A 7-1 hiding by Argentina brought the Kiwis solidly down to earth, but they learned their lessons and acquitted themselves well in the Finals, losing narrowly to African powerhouse Angola 2-1, and 3-0 to Brazil (with two goals coming in the last ten minutes), before beating Canada.
That wasn’t quite enough to qualify the young All Whites for the next round so that was where Bradley’s World Cup adventure ended for now.
It was an adventure that almost didn’t get off the ground. In Oceania qualifying, Bradley and his team lost to their Solomon Islands hosts, 5-0, but with the help of Bradley’s goals against Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea, they recovered to reach the final. There they met the Solomons again, this time prevailing in a penalty shoot out to earn their place in Brazil, where Bradley really had his eyes opened.
“Playing against world class players, some already professionals, taught me so much,” he says.
“I think the main difference between us and the Brazilians and Argentinians is that they have much more hunger. They mostly come from poverty, and football is their only way out. You can tell on the field that they’ll do whatever it takes.”
But having played in Western Springs’ senior men’s team from age 14, Bradley was far from overawed, though he’s well aware that to make the big time there’s still plenty to do.
“I need to work on so much, on and off the field,” he acknowledges. “My finishing, with both feet, and my confidence in 1 v 1 situations.”
On the plus side, anyone who watches Bradley in action notices his speed and work rate – “I try to be the hardest worker at every practice and in every game” - qualities which would stand him in good stead should he realise his ambition to play in Japan.
“Being half Japanese I’ve been over there many times and love everything about the country - the culture, the food, everything. Also, the atmosphere in the J-League looks unreal and it would be a dream to play in front of those crowds,” he says.
That’s all in the future. Meanwhile, Brad’s a realist and knows any aspiring footballer needs a plan B, and to that end is eyeing a career as a commercial pilot. Footballer or pilot - either way, it looks like Brad Wilson is in for quite a ride. (BILL HARRIS)