Nicolas Vallar is one of the latest footballers to prove the maxim that the cream always rises to the top. The Tahiti international, however, has had to wait longer than most for his ascent to glory.
After spending the best part of a decade in France, Vallar is now back playing in his homeland, where he finally appears to be living the dream. Just a year after his return to the South Pacific island, the 28-year-old defender helped his club, AS Dragon, to the league title, and lifted the 2012 OFC Nations Cup with the Tahiti national team.
Those recent triumphs carry huge significance for Vallar’s club and country. Dragon’s conquest was the first in their 44-year history, while Tahiti’s Nations Cup victory made them the first side other than Australia or New Zealand to take the continental crown since the competition’s creation in 1973.
“It’s a reward for my past struggles,” Vallar, a central figure in both of those historic achievements, told FIFA.com. “After having so many doubts, I proved to myself that I could still make it back to the highest level.”
Vallar is understandably savouring his new-found success, which has been a long time in the making. After moving to France to join Angers as a 16-year-old, he continued his development with a number of lower-league clubs before achieving promotion to Ligue 2 with Sete.
“That was when the troubles started,” Vallar said. Indeed, injuries, coaching decisions and fruitless trials combined to dent his hopes of making it as a professional footballer. “I found myself without a club or an agent," he explained. "It was a very difficult period."
Vallar has enjoyed a rapid upturn in fortunes since moving back to Tahiti one year ago, and the coming season already appears full of promise. Not only will he play in the OFC Champions League with Dragon, but he will also represent Oceania with Tahiti at the FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013.
“It’s every footballer's dream to play against the biggest nations and the best players in the world,” said Vallar, captain of a Tahiti side that sits 138th on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking. “That’s even more true for a small team like ours.”
Tahiti coach Eddy Etaeta had little hesitation in giving Vallar the captain’s armband. “He has a great athletic presence and is very aggressive on his man,” Etaeta told FIFA.com. “I can tell you that the forwards who’ve faced him this year have been left feeling rather dazed. That's what our national team had really been lacking.
“He is a very reassuring presence in defence. The remarkable thing is that he does it all cleanly: in five Nations Cup matches, he only received one yellow card. He was voted player of the tournament, which is very rare for a defender. I think his best match was the final against New Caledonia. The mark of great players is that they succeed in big matches.”
Vallar prefers, modestly, to attribute his side’s success to their all-round team spirit. “What I like about this group is that none of the young players tried to put themselves before the team. Many of them came from the U-20 side that played in the World Cup in Egypt in 2009.”
These visible signs of progress for Tahitian football are the result of a long-term effort to improve facilities and training methods in the country. And Vallar, for his part, does not want Tahiti to go to Brazil in 2013 just to make up the numbers.
“We mustn’t be too overawed, and I hope we play our own style of football,” he said. “We don’t want to look like fools and have regrets later on. For now, we’re still on our island, in our little world, and I don’t think we’ve yet realised just what lies in store for us.
“I think it could be a good opportunity for our young players to make names for themselves. I feel good here, for sure. But if I get another chance to join a big club in Europe or elsewhere, I’ll take it. I have no ties: I’m single with no children, and football is my whole life.”