Since the Hyundai A-League began play in 2005, there has been a lot of “overseas” representation at clubs in both playing and coaching. Whilst the vast majority have naturally been from the two host nations – Australia and New Zealand – there has also been the standard smattering from Brazil and also other countries such as Japan, Italy, Croatia, Serbia, Argentina, South Korea, South Africa, Scotland, France, Chile and England, to name but a few.
Despite this multi-national make-up of the A-League’s clubs, there is one group of players which has struggled to find representation… The doorstep nations of the South Pacific, for so many years qualifying opponents of the Socceroos, have seen a mere four players grace the A-League. Half of those have come from the Solomon Islands, one from Fiji and one from Papua New Guinea. So today I ask the question, why have more players from other Oceania nations not made the grade?
The Current Crop
Currently, there are two representatives of other Oceania countries plying their trades in the A-League. The most notable for many is striker, Roy Krishna, at the Wellington Phoenix.
Originally a temporary signing in January 2014, as cover for Paul Ifill, Krishna joined from Auckland City in the ASB Premiership, New Zealand’s semi-professional national competition. Before that, he’d also had a successful spell with crosstown rivals, Waitakere United, scoring 25 goals in 22 appearances during 2012-13. He was subsequently offered a trial by English club, Derby County (having already been offered a trial by PSV Eindhoven in 2009), but reluctantly had to turn it down due to New Zealand’s residency laws. He then had to wait some time for his opening goal for the Nix, coming as it did against Melbourne Heart in March 2014. However, Krishna had done enough to impress Ricki Herbert and he was offered a two-year deal at the end of that season.
Since then, the Fijian international has pushed on and managed 9 goals in 25 games for the 2014-15 campaign and had hit 6 in 11 games this season. Injury, however, has temporarily curtailed Krishna’s progress at the Nix. An injured foot sustained in the game with Central Coast Mariners on New Year’s Eve looks set to rule the striker out for the remainder of the season. That injury seems to have taken the Phoenix’s play-off hopes with it as the side struggle to score goals. But Krishna will surely return to lead the line again and fire the New Zealand club towards the top-half of the A-League next season.
The other current A-League player from non-New Zealand Oceania is Brad McDonald. The 25-year-old is currently with Central Coast Mariners and was born in Mount Hagen, Papua New Guinea, before moving to Australia at a young age. Of Papuan and Australian parentage, McDonald had always made no secret of Australia being his first choice and was even selected for an Olyroos camp in October 2011. When he was not subsequently selected, he took up Papuan citizenship and made his debut against Singapore in a friendly in September 2014.
McDonald began his career by playing in the Queensland leagues for Brisbane City and Brisbane Strikers before being snapped up by A-League expansion franchise, North Queensland Fury, in 2010. After 25 appearances in Townsville and with the club going under, he moved back to Brisbane Strikers during the off-season. He was then offered a route back into the A-League for the 2011-12 season with Central Coast Mariners. During his time with the club, he even got to appear in the Asian Champions League against Chinese club, Guizhou Renhe.
Spells in the New South Wales State League with APIA Leichhardt and Manly United followed before a move back into the A-League again. Central Coast Mariners coach, Tony Walmsley, took the opportunity to bring the utility man back on board in Gosford, offering him a contract in January of this year. He will now see out the remainder of this season at the club, with an option on an extension. Last weekend, McDonald finally got to make his latest debut for the Mariners when coming on as a 77th minute substitute for Jacob Pescoliero in a 3-1 win at the Wellington Phoenix in Christchurch.
With time on his side, McDonald will be looking to play his way into Flemming Serritslev’s Papua New Guinea squad for the forthcoming Oceania World Cup Qualifiers, to be held in that country between May and June of this year. PNG have been drawn in Group A alongside Tahiti, New Caledonia and Samoa, the latter having won the preliminary qualifying group against American Samoa, Tonga and the Cook Islands.
The other two Oceania players to have gained employment in the Hyundai A-League both hail from the Solomon Islands. The other similarity between the two was that their stints were both very brief.
Benjamin Totori arrived at the Wellington Phoenix with a big reputation, having scored goals in New Zealand’s ASB Premiership competition. 32 goals in 41 appearances over two seasons for YoungHeart Manawatu was followed by 10 goals in 19 during a season at Waitakere United and that got the attention of Portland Timbers’ New Zealander Technical Director, Gavin Wilkinson. The Timbers at that time played in the USA’s A-League (second tier) and Totori joined them in time for their 2008 campaign but played only 3 games as his season was hit by injury. This saw him back on a plane for a return to Auckland where he rejoined Waitakere United and spent two seasons, scoring 14 goals in 29 games.
A spell back in his native Solomon Islands with Koloale yielded and impressive 23 goals in 19 games and also saw the pacy striker notch 3 goals in 2 games against Ricki Herbert’s All Whites side in June 2012. Such performances convinced the All Whites and Phoenix coach to offer Totori a one-year deal with the club, with an option on a second season if he performed well enough. Totori himself certainly seemed to be excited about the move, telling reporters at the time, “It’s a big move for me. When I was in New Zealand playing for Waitak I always wanted to play for the Phoenix. I was really happy with my performances at the Nations Cup and the mindset I’ve got now.”
Unfortunately, as with his time in the USA, Totori’s stint was cut short. A poor goalscoring return and the departure of Ricki Herbert from the Phoenix, meant that the second season was paid up by the club after having been previously activated. New coach, Ernie Merrick, didn’t see a space in his XI for the Solomon Islander and a deal was done to send him to Victorian Premier League side, Oakleigh Cannons, for the remainder of their 2013 campaign.
Despite turning 30 later this month, Totori has been turning out for S-League side, Western United, since leaving Australia. He continues to turn out for the Solomons and will be hoping one last hurrah in the A-League might just be possible with a good OFC Nations Cup / World Cup Qualifying campaign in Papua New Guinea in May / June. The Solomons have been drawn in the group of death alongside New Zealand, Fiji and Vanuatu.
Totori’s compatriot, Henry Fa’arodo, completes our list of players from other Oceania countries to compete in the A-League. The 33-year-old has recently been made the Technical & Development Officer for the Solomon Islands Football Federation (SIFF) but has had a nomadic playing career in his native Solomons and also New Zealand, Australia and Papua New Guinea.
Having played for Melbourne Knights in the old National Soccer League, Fa’arodo was signed up by Perth Glory for the A-League’s inaugural season in 2005-06. A quick striker, who could also play in midfield, the Honiara native was a member of Steve McMahon’s squad, having joined on a one-year contract. He managed 11 appearances without reply before being released in March to sign a loan agreement with Victorian Premier League side, Essendon Royals.
Since his days with the Glory, Fa’arodo has had various spells in New Zealand’s ASB Premiership, the Victoria Premier League and also with Koloale in his native Solomon Islands. However, it was perhaps his spell at Papua New Guinea club, Hekari United, which yielded his most successful moment. The club went on to win the 2010 Oceania Champions League against New Zealand club, Waitakere United. A 3-0 home win in the first leg in Port Moresby was then followed up by a 2-1 defeat at Fred Taylor Park in Auckland, giving the PNG side the silverware. Fa’arodo played 90 minutes in both those games alongside fellow countrymen, Alick Maemae and Stanley Waita.
Besides those in the A-League, many will also remember a variety of Oceania players who competed in the old NSL. The likes of Esala Masi (Fiji), Reynald Temarii (Tahiti), Commins Menapi (Solomon Islands), Batrum Suri (Solomon Islands) and Gerald Quennet (Tahiti) have all graced various stadiums in Australia, proving that there is breeding ground for talent in the outlying islands.
A New Dawn?
The lack of Oceania reprisentation could be about to change. The other nations within Oceania are slowly but surely beginning to make a name for themselves in wider competition. A recent 3-o win for Fiji against Honduras at the 2015 Under-20 World Cup in New Zealand, was an upset of huge proportions. The Fijians may have finished bottom of their group but this result provided a pure David and Goliath moment for the tiny island nation. Even more impressive was the fact that only one of the 21-man squad, Divikesh Deo, played his football outside of Fiji itself. The 19-year-old goalkeeper was a member of New Zealand based youth side, Auckland United.
In 2013, Tahiti made it all the way to represent Oceania in the Confederations Cup in Brazil. Having beaten New Caledonia (who had previously shocked New Zealand at the semi-final stage) in the final of the 2012 OFC Nations Cup, the French Polynesian nation of just over 180,000 people became the first country outside of either Australia or New Zealand to represent the continent at the said tournament. They may have suffered heavy defeats to all three opponents in Brazil, but scoring against African champion, Nigeria, endeared the nation to the hearts of many worldwide observers.
As with their Fijian counterparts at the Under-20 World Cup two years later, Tahiti performed on the world stage with just one overseas-based player in the squad. Coach, Eddy Etaeta, was able to call on 33-year-old forward, Marama Vahirua, at that time playing his football with Greek club, Panthrakikos, on loan from AS Nancy in France. In fact, Vahirua had a very distinguished career in French football having also spent time with Nantes, Nice, Lorient and Monaco B. Once the Confederations Cup was over, the Papeete-born Tahitian idol returned to his native land in the South Pacific and signed for AS Pirae to play out his remaining seasons in the local competition.
Tahiti have been blessed with a conveyor belt of sorts that has provided the tiny French-administered nation with some real talent. Gerald Forschelet, for example, has done the rounds of some of Europe’s big leagues. Having begun his career with Cannes, he then made stops at Bolton Wanderers in England, Neuchâtel Xamax in Switzerland, Istres in France, Charleroi in Belgium, Assyriska in Sweden and AFC Tubize in Belgium before retiring. Striker, Steevy Chong-Hue, spent a trial period at French top-flight side, Lorient, as well as time in Belgium with BX Brussels. Confederations Cup squad captain, Nicolas Vallar, also spent time in France with Angers and Montpellier, as well as Portugal’s top-flight with Penafiel. And there’s also Raiamanu Tetauira who has spent time in Italy with Sassuolo. There are many more besides…
As with their French speaking cousins in Tahiti, New Caledonia is also beginning to export its own class of player, primarily to the French leagues. 28-year-old Wesley Lautoa has already played over 150 games in the French Ligue 1, for Sedan and Lorient. While 27-year-old striker, Georges Gope-Fenepej, has French top-flight experience with Troyes and is currently with third-tier side, Amiens, in the Championnat National. César Zeoula, another striker, is currently playing in the midfield of Ligue 2 side, Stade Lavallois, and has 24 caps to his name for his national side. Zeoula has also played for Mont-Dore and AS Magenta in his home country
Back in 2012, Ricki Herbert gave a trial at the Phoenix to Vanuatu defender, Brian Kaltack. Though ultimately unsuccessful, Kaltack went on to play a part in the Solomon Warriors’ Oceania Champions League campaign in later seasons while another defender, 19-year-old Jason Thomas, has gone on to sign for Phnom Penh Crown in the Cambodian Metfone League, showing that there is talent being produced in the nation formerly known as the New Hebrides.
Experienced coaches such as former Socceroo, Frank Farina, taking the reigns of the Fijian national and Under-20 sides, will certainly help matters in the long run. Also the low transfer fees that would almost certainly be involved for any player currently playing in Oceania, would certainly be a temptation for clubs if the quality is right. And with FIFA finally putting more funds into the Oceania confederation, it can surely only be a matter of time before the A-League starts to see better representation from Oceania’s “other” island nations. Maybe then, future Christian Karembeu’s will opt for the country of their birth and a career in the A-League rather than seeking their fame and fortune elsewhere.
by Paul Gellard