The sporting wisdom of super athlete Sonny Bill Williams has found a new outlet, with the All Blacks star helping shape the futures of his two young cousins as they chase their football dreams in England.
Sydney-raised brothers Akiel and Keyaan Raffie have Williams on speed dial for regular advice, guidance and encouragement as their stories unfold with Fleetwood Town and Manchester City.
Midfielder Akiel, 15, is in his third year with the League One Fleetwood, who are coached by controversial former QPR, Burnley and Rangers star Joey Barton.
Despite his tender years he has already broken through with the club’s under-18s and has a leading sports agency looking to sign him up.
Ten-year-old Keyaan, a budding striker, has just joined City’s academy set-up after being courted by Liverpool, Everton and Manchester United.
He was also at Fleetwood, who scouted him kicking the ball around watching Akiel train at the club.
Speaking from New Zealand, Williams – who recently visited the brothers during the All Blacks’ northern hemisphere tour – told The World Game: “They’re great kids who have a lot of talent and the whole family’s there supporting them.
“A lot of sacrifices have been made by their mum and dad (Nicole and Faghrie Deen) and their determination to succeed is tremendous to see.
“Everybody is putting in and hopefully the rewards will come. We talk a lot and I’m proud of what they’re doing.”
Faghrie Deen played rugby league for Wests’ reserve grade before the NRL merger with Balmain, his career curtailed by a hip injury.
Now the Lancashire-based dad is front and centre of marshaling the aspirations of his boys, whilst former Canterbury Bulldogs and Sydney Roosters monolith, sometime boxer and two-time Rugby World Cup winner Williams offers his own sage counsel.
Williams is married to Faghrie Deen’s neece Alana, and has “been a great mentor for the boys”.
“He’s there for both boys, and they look up to him,” said Faghrie Deen, who took the family permanently to the UK five years ago from their Camden home in Sydney’s west.
“The big conversation now is about dealing with agents and that sort of thing and Sonny has been really helpful there.”
Having recently agreed an extension to his scholarship contact with Fleetwood, Akiel has come onto the radar of Australia under-17s coach Trevor Morgan, and was close to a call-up for a tournament in Turkey next month.
Akiel has trained on a number of occasions with the first team, whilst Barton regularly watches the junior teams.
He had previous spells with Blackburn and Bolton before finding his feet at Fleetwood, in what Faghrie Deen described “as probably his last crack” after a number of other trials hadn’t produced any offers.
“Since joining Fleetwood it’s taken off for him … he’s one of those kids who wants to feel accepted and he’s flourishing now,” he added.
Choosing a future at City wasn’t difficult for Keyaan, with Faghrie Deen declaring: “Once we saw the program they had in terms of education, and their overall philosophy, it was a no-brainer in the end.
“It all provides justification for moving across the world. It’s all systems go now.”