Football Ferns defender CJ Bott cannot wait to begin her first professional contract.
The 22-year-old, who has played five internationals for New Zealand since making her debut in 2014, has signed with USV Jena in the Bundesliga on a 12-month contract.
Bott, a traveling reserve for New Zealand at the Rio Olympics in 2016, said signing her first pro deal is a big step forward in her football career.
“I’ve needed a new challenge for a long time so playing in one of the best leagues in the world is going to push me to step up my game to a higher international standard,” she said.
Bott was on trial in USV Jena for the past two weeks, but she had little nerves as she tried to impress.
“I know my own game quite well now and knew what I needed to do going into the trial, so I concentrated on that and didn’t let the pressure of what was going on get to me.”
New Zealand U-20 coach Gareth Turnbull, who leads the women’s domestic programme (FFDP), said it was great to see another Football Fern at a well-known club.
“It is fantastic news,” said Turnbull. “It is a goal that CJ has set for herself over the last couple of years and the fact that she has signed on for a full season and in one of the world’s top leagues is an incredible testament to her fortitude and determination, and the sacrifices she has made in the last six to nine months in particular. We wish her all the best.”
Bott was in contact with experienced Football Ferns Amber Hearn and Ria Percival, who have both played for the club, and said they were a huge help going into the trial.
“They’ve both played for this club so told me what to expect which meant nothing has been a major surprise for me.”
Turnbull expected Bott, who played an integral part in Forrest Hill Milford United winning the NZ Women’s Knockout Cup Final last year, would develop hugely in a professional environment.
“She goes into an environment where she is with other professionals and she needs to perform at her best every day,” he said.
“If she does that she has a good chance of competing for Jena in the Bundesliga and they have a strong Kiwi connection with Amber Hearn playing for many seasons there. We have five top leagues in the world and the Bundesliga is one of them and she will be competing with top senior international players and the top German youth national players as well. It is fantastic space for her to be in and fantastic news for the Ferns to have another fully-fledged professional overseas. It bodes well for the Ferns moving forward.”
Bott is looking forward to playing in a competitive team and league and being challenged day in, day out.
“My ultimate goal is to be the best version of myself,” she said. “If I can better my own game and offer an improved and more threatening version of myself to the Ferns, I’ll be happy.”
Bott was thankful for the support of the FFDP, the New Zealand Football Foundation and the NZ Professional Footballers Association (NZPFA) for making the move possible. A key goal of the FFDP is to support the development of players and create meaningful resources and connections to assist in finding professional contracts.
“CJ is one of several players we are working with to help them find suitable professional clubs,” said Turnbull. “We are really pleased that some of the work behind the scenes is paying off and hope that other players follow soon.”
Bott added: “It’s hard to find someone to help that will put in the time and effort to get contracts and trials, so without the new set up I’m not sure I’d be in this position,” said Bott.
“The financial support of the Football Foundation to get me to this trial was incredibly generous and I’m so grateful for their input. It’s an awesome feeling as a female footballer to know there is a group set up to help players in my situation and opportunities like the one I received don’t need to be missed due to financial barriers.”
Bott cannot wait to get into action with USV Jena and press her claims for a starting place, but she is also counting down to September. Bott is hoping to be selected for the Football Ferns for the USA Tour where they will take on the World No 1 in two international friendlies.
“The games against the USA are always a good challenge for us as they are one of the best teams in the world. We haven’t played together for a while now though so there will be a lot to work on in a short space of time but there’s no better test for us than playing against the US.”