The Asian Oceanian Football Confederation. The solution to long-standing troubles such as isolation, backwardness and scarce international competitiveness which continuously involve the OFC (Oceania Football Confederation) could be found there, in the neighboring Asiatic counterpart. Without any doubt integrating Oceanian countries in a fast-growing scenario like Asia would represent a decisive, historic turn for the football played on the Pacific islands, which have had few chances to attract interest outside their relatively small continent so far.
Obviously it’s just an idea and nothing like this is on the table right now, but let’s analyze together which could be the ten biggest benefits which would derive from the birth of the AOFC.
If you’ve ever heard someone talking about Oceania, New Zealand, Fiji and Tonga on sports matters, they were probably related to the continent’s dominant sporting activity, rugby, in which all of them excel brilliantly on the global stage. Apart from New Zealand, where a footballing culture is growing up after the All Whites‘ heroics at the last World Cup in South Africa, barely you can associate the names of these countries to football, as many Oceania’s nations would find it hard even to compete against clubs from the Italian sixth tier.
The same can be said about clubs. It doesn’t make so much sense playing continually against the same opponents, especially considering their low technical level.
At international level, OFC club teams can prove themselves only at the Club World Cup, where they often have to face off some of the strongest Asian teams in an uneven and difficult play-off.
It’s by far more useful that these teams play with a certain regularity at improved standards, and not just once a year. And getting the chance to play clubs like Kelantan, Nagoya, Arema or Seongnam, despite they’re not Barcelona or Manchester United, would already be an enormous step forward to the right direction.
Oceanian football would heavily improve in many different aspects, from the growth of young players to a more professional management of societies. A technical development which groups any side of football both on and off the pitch must be considered the turning point around which all the the others would subsequently rotate.
4.The economical aspect
As football is considerably expanding as a worldwide multi-million market, the economical aspect is a hugely relevant part of the game. The Oceania Football Confederation actually lives of funds coming from sponsors and partnerships with other federations (the FA of England, the Australian FFA), and recently some drawbacks from Oceania’s football governing body showed how much they need to find a solid business stability in order of avoiding to affect the game in the continent. For example, OFC general secretary Tai Nicholas in September revealed that OFC couldn’t provide the broadcast of the 2014 World Cup qualifiers across the continent as it would have meant a cost of USD 140,000 for OFC TV, the confederation’s production unit, despite tv broadcasters from Tahiti and New Caledonia had already bought the rights. “We have to operate financially and be prudent with our funds and OFC TV was facing a USD 140,000 loss in the live production. This does not make good business sense and it would have been irresponsible of us to proceed any further,” he declared. “We apologize for the situation but there are high costs involved and great difficulties logistically in the production of such matches with games played across four countries within a few days of each other.”
Surely in Asia it would be extremely unlikely to face another situation like this, especially for matches such as the World Cup qualifiers.
And inevitably, the local federations of the Pacific nations can’t afford the costs of the organization of friendly matches at the current state of things.
All of us know how necessary is money in sports today, and for an upgrade of football in Oceania is indispensable a parallel economic improvement.
5.The passion of fans
In some Oceanian countries, like the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, football is considered the national sport, it’s widely played and gets thousands of followers. Local fans deserve to see their dreams come true one day, like watching their national team winning a once-in-a-lifetime match. And if you question the real existence of the passion for the game, just think that more than 10,000 fans watched the 2011 South Pacific Games final in New Caledonia, or that over 22,000 people came out to witness the Solomon Islands securing a 2-0 win against Tahiti in their first match of the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualification games.
6.The chance of playing regularly
Factors like excessive costs and a lack of interest from international mass media contribute to positioning football at the lowest levels of the continental sports hierarchy. So we don’t have to be surprised if we discover that most of Oceanian countries play some international games just once every four years, during the South Pacific Games or the WC qualifiers, when these two tournaments don’t coincide, reducing even more the number of games that every country plays. And without any game time, improving is a titanic task-
7.A greater visibility
Let’s imagine that Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, two bordering countries, organize a friendly match. The Guineans, apart from playing a kind of derby with their Asiatic neighbours, would receive attention from an entire footballing nation like Indonesia, which counts more than 200 millions people. It would be a completely different new situation, as their opponents usually don’t number even 100,000 people among them (American Samoa, Tuvalu and so on).
And also national talents would take advantage of the visibility that Asian football guarantees, for not getting snobbed just reading their provenance on their identity cards. Because unfortunately it’s so difficult to find a player good enough for professional football on the Pacific islands that we shouldn’t be shocked to see things like these happening.
8.New Zealand: the British style in Asia
Not only the OFC would take advantage from an association with its Asian counterpart but also the AFC could improve a lot with a theoretical entrance of New Zealand, whose football’s impressively improved in recent years. Not only the All Whites shocked the world with their unbeaten run at the last World Cup, but also the youth national teams have shown glimpses of class, demonstrated by prowesses of high-promising talents with the likes of Leicester City’s Chris Wood, who has scored 13 goals so far in the Championship, and the labelled ‘KiwiMessi’ Marco Rojas, who is literally ripping up his opponents in the A-League.
A team who is based on a typical Britannic physicity with a huge amount of quality emerging: a more than interesting calling card for New Zealand.
9.The ‘Oriundos’: future heroes?
Some points above I had written that it’s very difficult to find some footballers suitable for professional football in the Pacific zone. Yet it’s difficult but not impossible, as there are Benjamin Totori from the Solomon Islands, who plays as a super-sub for the Wellington Phoenix in the A-League, Georges Gope-Fenepej of Troyes and Lorient’s Wesley Lautoa, both from New Caledonia, who ply their trade in the French Ligue 1, and the list could go on. But this list could even be much more longer if we consider all the players native of these Oceanian countries who could potentially represent their originary nation: just think of Marama Vahirua, a former France U-21 international who recently declared he’d like to represent Tahiti at the next Confederations Cup, Central Coast Mariners left-back Brad McDonald, who was born in Papua New Guinea, or Western Sydney Wanderers’ Tahj Minniecon, whose blood is mixed up with Vanuatuan heritage. There are many others unfortunately unavailable now, like Reading centre-back Adrian Mariappa, who could have played for Fiji instead of Jamaica, or Nouméa-born Frédéric Piquionne, who could have boosted Les Cagous’ team for the World Cup qualifiers hadn’t he chosen Martinique and France over them, or, referring to the past, 1998 World Cup winner Christian Karembeu, born in Lifou, New Caledonia, and the greatest Oceanian player of all time.
It’s easily understandable that most of these players chose to play for stronger national teams instead of their little-known native countries, but things would change had the Pacific islands the chance of fighting for relevant targets in the footballing panorama.
Why on Earth should Brad McDonald or Tahj Minniecon decide to play for teams who only get a handful of matches every four years instead of living with the potential hope of playing a World Cup with Australia (despite it seems unlikely for them)?
The birth of the AOFC would mark the start of a new era for football in Oceania. And for these small countries every chance of playing would be historic, a pleasurable novelty, which would then become a habit. Unfortunately the ideas of just few people to make a whole continent dream will never be enough, a turn like this needs that the first steps come from the OFC’s headquarters. The only thing we can do is waiting for some good news, and maybe continuing to spread and create new ideas. Let’s hope one day we’ll wake up seeing this dream come true.
AsianOceanianfootball takes a look at the top five uncapped Oceanian players abroad who could have played in the upcoming edition of continent’s top competition.
Marama Vahirua – AS Monaco – Age: 32
Papeete-born Marama Vahirua’s presence in the tournament could have given a major boost to Tahiti’s hopes of reaching Nations Cup semifinals and subsequently the third round of OFC qualifiers for 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. The 32-year-old, who is now plying his trade in France’s second-tier with AS Monaco, is a full Tahitian citizen and despite having represented France at U-21 level, is still eligible to wear the Pacific nation’s shirt. With 309 matches and 69 goals in Ligue 1 with clubs such as Nantes, Nice Lorient and Nancy, Vahirua would have certainly been the most experienced striker of the competition and one of the biggest threats for the opponent defenders. He was awarded the Oceania Footballer of the Year’s trophy in 2005.
Frédéric Piquionne – West Ham United – Age: 33
West Ham United’s Frédéric Piquionne is by far the best footballer New Caledonia has ever produced after 1998 World Cup winner Christian Karembeu. The former Lyon and Saint-Etienne striker counts a cap for France national team in a friendly against Austria in 2007, but it’s unlikely to play again with Les Bleus and technically would have been eligible for his native country after new FIFA permissions of changing alliance if the matches played are only friendlies, as happened with USA’s Jermaine Jones, a former member of Germany national team. A powerful and strong striker, Piquionne has scored 83 league goals in his flourishing European career.
Wesley Lautoa – FC Lorient – Age: 25
New Caledonia have a solid and promising defender in Lorient’s Wesley Lautoa. The 24-year-old centre back was born in France in Epernay but holds New Caledonian passport thanks to his family’s heritage and is regarded as one of the most hopeful continent’s defender in Europe, with All Whites England-based Tommy Smith and Winston Reid. A muscular injury prevented him from playing regularly with his Ligue 1 outfit in his first six months at the club, after moving from second division team Sedan Ardennes in January.
Adrian Mariappa – Watford – Age: 25
Watford captain Adrian Mariappa almost joined Fiji national team for the previous Nations Cup but in the end he decided not to take up the place. The Jamaica international, who made his debut with the Reggae Boyz in a friendly match against Guyana in May, has still a chance to play for his father’s native country but now it seems highly unlikely he will join the team as his international career has just begun. Mariappa has Premier League experience on his shoulders having played 19 matches with Watford in the 2006-07 season, and was close to a return to England’s top flight competition after attracting interest from clubs with the likes of Wigan Athletic and Newcastle. He was voted Watford’s player of the 2011-12 season.
Brad McDonald – Central Coast Mariners – Age: 22
Talented left-back Brad McDonald represents one of Papua New Guinea’s stars of the future. The Kudjip-born defender plays in Australia for A-League Premiership winners and AFC Champions League team Central Coast Mariners, but he’s yet to debut with Graham Arnold’s side as he faces a hard challenge in fighting with the league’s most accomplished left-back Joshua Rose. McDonald made a name for himself in Australia’s top division after a stellar season with axed North Queensland Fury in 2010-11, which allowed him to sign a contract with the New South Wales franchise.
By Christian Rizzitelli