Friday 05 July 2024, 08:20

OFC President sees life's work come to fruition at OFC Men's Nations Cup

Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) President Lambert Maltock struggled to contain his emotions and even some tears, as he witnessed his beloved Vanuatu line-up for the OFC Men’s Nations Cup final at the sold-out VFF Freshwater Stadium, and realised his life’s work in football is nearly completed. “I can honestly say I have completed my dream and my mission. I have come a long way as a simple football lover,” reflects Maltock on 35 years as a football administrator and even longer as successful club player and coach. “I never thought I would be OFC President and to build such a stadium and create such an ambiance for the football lovers in the region. When I leave my job, I think I have completed my mission.” The football story for the 68-year-old from local public servant in the province of Malampa to FIFA Vice-President has been long road with many bumps, but watching his country host the OFC pinnacle event for the first time, in their brand-new, FIFA-funded stadium, Maltock says the hard work has been worth it.

Maltock says his main focus has been to give Vanuatu and other OFC players better career opportunities and to make the Vanuatu Football Association financial sustainable, and he feels the federation has made huge strides on both fronts. Long after Maltock has handed over the reins of the federation, the VFF Freshwater Stadium will always remain a wonderful physical tribute to the OFC President’s achievements.

The former four-time champion with Jeunesse Sportive Maka FC in the 1980s, initially dedicated his career to fixing the dire financial situation of his local government in Malampa, before using those same skills within the national government and eventually the Vanuatu Football Federation, who had fallen on hard times at the start of the millennium.

FIFA Vice-President and OFC President Lambert Maltock during the FIFA Council Meeting

The secretary general of the Malampa FA was first asked to take on the same role at VFF before being elected as VFF President in 2008. In 2018, Maltock was elected as President of OFC, but despite the workload of that role, the statues demand he also has to continue in his role at national and provincial level.

“The rules demand that I can’t be VFF President without being president of a local federation, and I can’t be OFC President without being president of a national association, so it become very busy covering all those three roles,” said Maltock who admits that lack of communications in some parts of Vanuatu requires significant travel by air and sea to have face-to-face meetings with local administrators.

FIFA Vice-President and OFC President Lambert Maltock

“So, after I get to the FIFA Congress, the Council meetings, and all the other meetings, I have to come back to Vanuatu, to share what was discussed with my executive, my staff, to realign everything that is required by FIFA. And then I also have to go to the Islands and talk to them about any changes in FIFA regulations, development programmes, and also OFC,” says Maltock. “I communicate from the top right back to the grassroots, and from the grassroots, I take all the needs to OFC and to FIFA, to see how we can build the football in Oceania.”

FIFA President Gianni Infantino with FIFA Vice-President and OFC President Lambert Maltock

The many trips to FIFA headquarters have paid dividends for Vanuatu and other OFC nations with FIFA Forward funding creating vital infrastructure projects around the Pacific. Maltock feels VFF Freshwater Stadium is the jewel in the FIFA crown, ticking all key boxes around sustainability, accessibility and resilience to the impacts of climate change.

“It’s one of the unique stadiums, as far as I can understand from FIFA. It’s one of the first projects that is really comprehensive. It’s small, but comprehensive. “We cater for the needs of all spectators. It is a model and I’m sure that this concept will be replicated in all other areas in the OFC,” said Maltock who explained how solar panels provide power for stands and an underground well supplies water for the pitch in the dry season. “When we designed it, we have also took into account where we are. We have cyclones every year and other natural disasters so we designed our stadiums to be resilient.”

VFF is the first sporting body to own its own stadium, which Maltock explains is major step towards financial independence, and less reliance on FIFA and OFC funding. “We run a lot of competitions, but we were losing money paying rent to the government own the other stadiums.

“We decided we needed our own stadium, so when the government advertised the lease of the Freshwater location, we convinced them that this project was good for the community and the VFF they gave us the land for free. It is a good collaboration between the state and VFF and now we own a stadium, and we have very big potential to raise local revenues to sustain our development program.”

Good infrastructure is the key ingredient for developing good players, along with quality coaching, so the VFF is also investing in international expertise, starting with new national coach Juliano Schmeling, who has already gained legendary status by taking Vanuatu to its first OFC Nations Cup final. Maltock explains how the VFF has created a strong development programme under the guidance of youth development director from Brazil, a new grassroots programme for players under 12, new competitions for 14-20 year olds, a futsal development programme as well as a Technical Development Scheme (TDS), funded by FIFA.

“We also hired a Talent Identification Officer who travels all corners of the country, to bring the best of the best to our Teouma Academy for further development,” says Maltock who adds that the VFF made a strategic decision to recruit foreign coaches for the TDS programme. “We brought foreign expertise to this country, so we can do things properly, just like what is expected in professional academies around the globe. And all of them work with our local coaches as part of this training programme.” Vanuatu showcased its talent pool at the OFC Nations Cup, and Maltock says there are plenty more Brian Kaltak’s hiding in villages around the island nations, but there are no pathways for them to break into the professional leagues.

Vanuatu’s Brian Kaltak | Photo: Shane Wenzlick /

“But it took Brian 15 years to become a professional, so we need to fix that,” says Maltock, who is working hard to open doors in Australia and New Zealand clubs and associations. “I have visited all the A-League clubs and also the State Premier League clubs, which are the first outlets for our players. “We have also created a good relationship with the FFA executive, and we want to sign a memorandum of understand between FFA and OFC, so we can give fresh opportunities to our players. As part of that we are negotiating a policy that OFC players are exempt as visa players. And we have the same discussions with clubs in New Zealand where we see lots of opportunities.” Maltock says that the success of Kaltak with the Central Coast Mariners has done wonders to the perception of OFC players with professional clubs. “Brian Kaltak has convinced them he can be a champion and the impact is really big amongst clubs in Australia around the potential of our players in Oceania. If we can have three or four more players performing well in Australia and New Zealand, I think there will be many more kids go in the future.”

Fans at the OFC Men’s Nations Cup 2024 Final | Photo: Shane Wenzlick /

The final piece in Maltock’s puzzle is the creation of the professional league in Oceania, set to kick off in 2026 with support from FIFA who have funded the recruitment of the OFC Pro League Manager to drive the project.

He explains how the new Pro League Manager will start education potential clubs about how to run a professional club, which is new territory for most clubs in OFC. “They really want a professional club, but they don’t have the expertise. Next year, 2025, will be a period of education, to give an opportunity for clubs that dream of being part of it, so they are really prepared.” He says that OFC is yet to decide whether the participating clubs will be existing clubs or become new franchises representing an entire association. “It will be my last job to kick off the professional league in Oceania. After that I can leave happy and say I have done my job after 40 years working in this beautiful game.”