Just a few days ago it was announced that New Caledonia international star Georges Gope-Fenepej has penned a one-year deal with newly-promoted club Troyes AC in Ligue 1, France’s top tier.
It’s the second Pacific player that manages to sign for a professional club after the Nations Cup, with the first being Solomon Islands’ Benjamin Totori, who will ply his trade in the Australian A-League with New Zealand franchise Wellington Phoenix.
But many ask if things can go even further. Will Gope-Fenepej be able to affirm his abilities in one of Europe’s biggest leagues?
Certainly the guy has plenty of talent to show. His performances at last year’s Pacific Games and in the most recent edition of the OFC Nations Cup allowed him to make a name for himself around all the continent. But Europe is a totally different stage from Oceania and many others local stars didn’t have the best outcomes they wanted in their brief experience on the global stage, as it happened to Georges’s brother John, who played for Bolton Wanderers in England and for Nantes and Creteil in France, collecting only a hanfdul of presences over three years.
However Georges’s credentials for this huge chance in Europe seem more hopeful to make him a consistent player in France. Since now, of the few Caledonians who played professional, only Christian Karembeu and Antoine Kombouaré were successful. There are no reason whereby he couldn’t be the third.
Gope-Fenepej is a striker who plays mainly as a deep-lying forward. Technically he is miles ahead his fellow Caledonians teammates and probably all the others attacking players from the Pacific Islands. His touch is very precise and soft, which allows him to have a much better accuracy when trying to shoot, especially from close range where he rarely fails to strike down with his right foot, or passing the ball.
Georges’s powerful physicality also allows him to be dangerous on air, and this is why he can play also as a target man. His rugby player-like body, as for many other Oceanian players, strenghtens his means to free himself from the opponent defenders, despite he feels more comfortable with the ball at his feet.
Therefore Waddle, that’s his nickname among New Caledonia fans, has the rare ability of combining both technical and physical skills. Reaching this kind of high level of football despite being grown up only in Oceania points out how much innate talent he must have.
However Georges’s biggest limits are athletic. He’s not very fast and the completely different pace of a competition like the Ligue 1, compared to the Oceanian’s, could prove a very tough challenge to take on.
Consequently he could probaby expose his best if playing as a second striker. Between midfield and attack he can find more space than in a stationary position and could create chances for his team with passes or move more freely with less pressure. On the other hand he could be a good option upfront with his killer instinct, as forwards don’t necessarily need a great amount of speed for scoring goals. But there he wouldn’t find the space he requires to maximize his team’s profit with his technical skills. Much will depend on Troyes’s way of playing attacking football.
Notwithstanding his lack of speed he’s sure to last the whole game on the pitch as New Caledonia humid climate and Oceanian lofty temperatures generally imply high resistance and hard efforts.
Thus Troyes have a great tool in Gope-Fenepej. Their fans can’t expect too much from him immediatly as he need to adapt to a completely different level of the game, but after that he’ll be capable of showcasing his abilities in the right circumstances.
International career and data
Georges Gope-Fenepej started to obtain a reputation in the continent after his bursting performance in the 2011 South Pacific Games won by New Caledonia where he scored 7 goals in 5 matches, despite not playing in his team’s demolitions over Guam (9-0) and American Samoa (8-0), against which he could have certainly added even more to his tally.
But his definitive explosion occurred in June’s Nations Cup, particularly in the unpredictable 2-0 win in the semifinal against Oceania powehouse New Zealand, where he sealed the success with a delicious 93th minute goal.
Now he counts 9 goals in 11 appereances with his national team, but he doesn’t seem to stop right now.