Saturday 04 November 2023, 07:30

Football in New Caledonia: strong growth and major ambitions

  • New Caledonia will take part in the FIFA U-17 World Cup for the second time in its history

  • Eighty per cent of the players in the current U-17 squad have come through the FCF academy, set up in 2022 with the support of FIFA and the OFC

  • Another tool to support future progress will be the FIFA Talent Development Scheme

As the last Oceania member association to join FIFA in 2004, New Caledonia is comparatively only at the dawn of its footballing history. The future, however, looks bright if the results of its U-17 team are anything to go by. After taking part at India 2017, the first FIFA tournament for which the country managed to qualify, Les Cagous are preparing for their second FIFA World Cup in the age category. In their opening game, they take on 2017 champions England on 11 November.

They will arrive in Indonesia better prepared and armed than they were six years ago, thanks to major investments made in the development of football in New Caledonia, particularly in terms of infrastructure. With the financial and technical support of both FIFA and the OFC who worked in close collaboration, a football school was founded in 2022: the FCF academy.

Its aim? To bring together the country's best potential players, identified through a talent development programme targeted at players from the age of thirteen. Eighty per cent of the players in the current New Caledonian U-17 national team come from this academy, which has already proved its worth for both boys and girls alike. "The academy was set up in response to the Federation’s desire to establish a pathway to excellence for New Caledonian players. It came into being at the same time as the FCF signed up to the FIFA Talent Development Scheme," explained Dominique Wacalie, Technical Director of the Fédération Calédonienne de Football.

New Caledonia WC (3) - Gettyimages

"Our first qualification for the U-17 World Cup in India in 2017 strengthened the FCF's resolve to qualify more often for U-17 and U-20 World Cups for both boys and girls," he added. It would be a mistake though to think that this elite school focuses solely on football. The centre also supports its talented youngsters throughout their school careers. It works hand-in-hand with the Do Kamo secondary school, which a certain Christian Karembeu attended as a teenager. Appointed as a patron of the academy, the FIFA Legend recently visited his protégés.

We are very satisfied with our academy and with our current results. But we still need to improve the way we operate to get even closer to the standards required at the highest level.

Dominique Wacalie
Technical Director of the Fédération Calédonienne de Football

"The Lycée Do Kamo has provided a platform for those aspiring to the top level, but it takes a lot of hard work and patience too. Personal initiative should not be underestimated either. Everyone is unique, everyone has their own talent, and it's up to them to make the most of it," Karembeu explained. "You always have to aim higher. That's the only way to win trophies.”

Clearly, the message from the 1998 world champion has been received loud and clear. Far from being satisfied with the construction of the FCF academy, the New Caledonian Football Federation has also recently implemented FIFA’s Talent Development Scheme which helps member associations to reach their potential by ensuring that every talent can be identified and developed.

France's Christian Karembeu celebrates with the World Cup trophy

As part of this project, twenty-five member associations worldwide will benefit from the services of a talent coach for two years. New Caledonia is one of the lucky ones.

"We want to train top-level players in countries with significant development potential. Many children around the world don't have the opportunity to develop their talent, and the quality of our work can help remedy that," explained Arsène Wenger, FIFA's Chief of Global Football Development.

"By putting coaches on the ground to work directly with member associations, we believe we can improve the high-performance environment in each country and give more talent a chance," added Patricia Gonzalez, FIFA's Team Lead - Talent Coaches.

With its elite academies and the work that will be supporting it over the coming months, New Caledonia has given itself the means to fulfil its lofty ambitions. "It's time for new Christian Karembeus to emerge," said FIFA President Gianni Infantino at the inauguration of the FCF's new headquarters last August.

That is what history is all about.