January 2022 sees the departure of three more Olé Football Academy players into European professional football. Otto Ingham, Robert Sabo and Kees Sims have all signed professional contracts with Swedish Division 1 club Ljungskile SK for the beginning of the 2022 season. All three players are set to join the club in late January. 

Otto, Robi and Kees have played an integral role in Western Suburbs FC’s first ever qualification for New Zealand’s inaugural club based National League competition, demonstrating their ability at New Zealand’s top level of domestic football. All three players have also been included in New Zealand U20 National Team camps over the past 2-3 years. 

“This is a natural progression for Otto, Robi and Kees who have all excelled as young players in the New Zealand landscape and are ready to be exposed to new challenges. To be based in Europe, where they will have the opportunity to train, work and play daily in a professional environment is huge,” said Olé Technical Director, Ben Sippola. 

Over recent years, the academy has recognised how challenging the transition is for the New Zealand player into Europe. Olé has prioritised the development of a number of strategic partnerships in Europe to facilitate pathways for player development and growth, including key relationships with Danish club FC Helsingør and Torslanda IK in Sweden.

Olé began exploring opportunities with Ljungskile SK at the begin of 2021, so it’s exciting to see this come together for the first group of boys after a long process led by Ben Sippola and Olé CEO, Blake Jones. The relationship with Ljungskile SK holds huge potential for the New Zealand player and will be a great initial stepping stone for Otto, Robi and Kees who are full of potential and will no doubt have their work cut out for them.

“Our initial discussions were super promising. The management and community have been very supportive of our initiative and we are looking forward to getting the boys over to Sweden as soon as possible so that they can acclimatise and begin training. Over the past 3-4 years the academy has now helped facilitate the move of 15+ players into full-time, professionally run football programmes. Not only has this been beneficial to the day to day operations at Olé and encouraging to the next crop of Olé Football Academy players, but without a doubt, has also improved the New Zealand Men’s National team, looking at the number of Olé graduates involved in recent All Whites squads and competitions,” said Blake. 

Otto Ingham, Jarrod McKechnie, Robi Sabo, Ben Sippola (Head Coach), Oscar Hough, Kees Sims, Marko Stamenic, Sean Bright and Jaylen Rodwell. All U17 players at the time of winning the 2019 Central League, and are all now either based in European club environments or US Universities.

The boys themselves are all buzzing about the opportunity before them and are ready to get themselves over to Europe and go to work. It’s no doubt a huge benefit for them to be able to head over together, and with the addition of having a number of Olé graduates based in European countries around them, it should make the transition and acclimation that much easier. 

Otto Ingham is a left footed, creative, attacking player, who spent time in Spain as a youth and has been a huge part of the recent success at Olé and Western Suburbs FC, helping the team win leagues and qualify for New Zealand’s best competitions.

Ben Sippola said it’s been a highlight working with him, “Otto has an exciting upside to his game due to his technical ability and skilful nature. He carries himself with professionalism and is always hungry to improve his game.”

“I’m super excited to get over to Ljungskile SK and get to work. I think it’s a great opportunity for myself and the boys to show what we can do. I feel super grateful to be part of the Olé family and to have called it my second home over the last three years. I especially want to thank Ben and Blake for making this opportunity possible and being by my side the last few years,” said Otto. 

Robi Sabo said he’s really looking forward to the opportunity coming up. “It’s going to be a big challenge. A big thanks to all the players and staff members that have been a part of the journey through the years I have been at Olé. Olé has always been a special place to me and my family, and I couldn’t be more grateful to be part of the academy.”

Originally from Ashburton, Robi Sabo has been with Olé for a number of years now. He’s an exciting, versatile, young defender. Recently, Robi has not only been integral to the success of the First Team, but played a big part in the 2020/2021 ESAFC team as they went through the championship phase of the ISPS Handa Premiership. Robi was also named in the New Zealand Football’s 2021 National League South Central Series team of the season. 

“Robi has such huge potential. He plays with his heart on his sleeve and is capable in multiple positions. Robi has only been a joy to work with and he’s loved by his team mates,” commented Ben Sippola. 

Arguably the top goalkeeping prospect coming out of New Zealand, Kees Sims has all the attributes of someone capable of playing at the highest level. In addition to his shot stopping, Kees’ fantastic perception and ability to play under pressure with his feet make him a unique addition to any team looking to play a progressive style. Kees has consistently shown himself to be one of the top young players in New Zealand and has been a huge part of the fabric of Olé after a number of years with the academy.

“Kees is an amazing individual. He has a fantastic work ethic and dedication to his craft. He’s always receptive to feedback and looking to get better. The world is his oyster,” said Ben. 

On his move to Sweden, Kees commented, “I’m very excited and looking forward to starting my journey in Europe as a footballer. It’s always been a goal to go there and it almost doesn’t feel real that it’s finally happening. Ole has been a great place to develop as a person and footballer. It has provided me with many opportunities I am grateful for and has helped me grow to who I am today.”

Olé thanks Otto, Robi and Kees and their families for their commitment, trust and support. This is an incredible opportunity for them and it’s well deserved based on all the years of dedication and work they’ve put in to get themselves to this point.

We’re so excited to see the boys get over there and start the next part of their journey as footballers. All the best guys, go and do your thing! 

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