Krishna's A-League excellence shows potential of Pacific footballers

By Thomas Airey, 25 May 2019

Football in the Pacific is on the up, and those around the professional game in Australasia are hoping recent successes will lead to more talented players from the islands forging careers in the sport.

New Caledonian club Hienghene defeated local rivals Magenta in the first ever all Pacific islands Oceania Football Confederation (O.F.C.) Champions League final this month.

Then Fiji international Roy Krishna of the Wellington Phoenix was awarded the Johnny Warren Medal as Australia’s A-League player of the year, for his stellar season in which he led the league in goals with 19.

Former New Zealand international player and O.F.C. Vice-President Fred de Jong told A.B.C. Radio Australia programme Pacific Beat he has no doubt there is more than one Roy Krishna in the Pacific Islands, and that the O.F.C. need to do all they can to encourage New Zealand Football and the Football Federation Australia to open up their regulations and bring more players in.

“Because the easier it is for the movement of these players, obviously the better.”

Ernie Merrick is the former coach of the Wellington Phoenix, and he recruited Krishna to the A-League in 2014.

Merrick told Pacific Beat that he wants a dedicated visa slot created for each A-League club to recruit one player from the islands.

“To be the top scorer in the A-League, coming from where he’s come from, is just truly exceptional.

“There are so many talented athletes in the pacific Region, you just have to look at the number of rugby league and rugby union players for example.

“So if soccer can give them the same opportunity, I think there’d be so many coming through.”

de Jong noted that the New Zealand Premiership already has such a system, where clubs are allowed six import players plus an extra one from the Pacific Islands.

“If the A-League would do something like that, that would instantly make the Pacific players much more accessible.”

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One of the Pacific Islanders plying his trade in New Zealand is Papua New Guinea international Tommy Semmy, who de Jong said is succeeding at Hamilton Wanderers.

“He’s a proven goalscorer at New Zealand Premiership level now, and I think he’s got the raw materials to go further.

“Still very young, he’s a guy that in the right environment, I think could do really, really well.”

Merrick told Pacific Beat he also wants to see structural development in the island countries, and the prospect of Papua New Guinea and Fiji launching professional leagues is exactly what’s needed to provide vital development.

“Technically, they’re all very good.

“Their ability to control the ball, pass the ball, their speed is phenomenal, agility, all the physical aspects, technical aspects are there.

“It’s really the strategic areas, it’s about having a regular competition of such a high standard that it challenges everyone.”

de Jong said Oceania players at junior levels are on a par with many of the bigger countries, but at the next stage when they move into professionalism a gap starts to appear.

“The gap gets very big very quickly, the European players are playing at big clubs, and in the next two or three years their progress just skyrockets, and we can’t match that.”

The Solomon Islands are competing at the Under-17 World Cup later this year, and Drew Sherman, a former coach of the Cook Islands national team who currently works in youth development for A-League club Brisbane Roar, said a strong performance from them would be a big deal, at a time when momentum is growing in Pacific football.

“There is starting to be that track record of success, and no longer can clubs turn a blind eye to the nations.”

Roy Krishna himself told Stuff after his Johnny Warren Medal win that he thinks there are players even more talented than him in the Pacific Islands.

"It's not just in Fiji it's all around Oceania. 

“There's a lot of talent, the agents just need to come to this part of the world. 

“We have young talents and you can sign them for cheap." 

By Thomas Airey, 25 May 2019

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