The glittering surroundings of the FIFA Club World Cup will represent strange and uncharted territory for Hekari United. Yet although nothing in their fledgling seven-year history has prepared the Papua New Guinean part-timers for what awaits in Abu Dhabi, one player will go into next month’s tournament better equipped than most.
David Muta, Hekari’s midfield linchpin, is widely regarded as the team’s key player, and was singled out last month by assistant coach Jerry Allen as “an important influence on and off the field”. It was that ability to control matches and lead by example that, in November 2008, earned the 23-year-old a place in an Oceania All-Stars team to face Los Angeles Galaxy.
With David Beckham in direct opposition and Edgar Davids appearing alongside him as a guest star, Muta impressed, relishing the experience of rubbing shoulders with two of the world’s most renowned midfielders. Now, as he prepares to lead his team-mates into the biggest challenge of their professional careers, Muta has told FIFA.com that he intends drawing on the lessons learned from that all-star experience.
He said: “Playing against David Beckham was a special experience – he was very good to observe. Every time he received the ball, he used one touch to see a pass and play in one of his team-mates. His distribution was always very quick and of high quality. As a person, he also is very humble – he talked to me on the field and afterwards, and offered me a lot of encouragement.
“Beckham advised me to use my skills and to aim to perform on the highest stage, and now at the Club World Cup my aim is to do just that. Edgar Davids was an aggressive player and never stopped running for our team – I also learned a lot from him. That experience made me believe that nothing is impossible for us – it will be up to our players to show a strong mentality and I believe we can play to this kind of level.”
A respected and high-profile figure in Papua New Guinea, Muta is acutely aware of his importance to his team and to the wider football community in this Pacific Island nation. Indeed, despite his relatively tender years, the Hekari captain explains why he willingly shoulders the burden of providing an inspirational example on and off the field.
“I feel whatever I do in football makes me a role model,” he said. “At the moment there are many kids in Papua New Guinea who look up to me and they dream of one day playing for Papua New Guinea. I will always make time for the children back home and I believe football is a good way of reaching children in our country, where poverty and education are a challenge. The kids know I played against the LA Galaxy and they are excited Hekari will be at the FIFA Club World Cup.
“Personally, I’m really pleased, really excited and very, very happy we have made it this far. I am really looking forward to being part of this tournament in the UAE – it has brought a lot of joy and happiness to our country and our club.”
Of course, this delight at being represented in Abu Dhabi would be miniscule in comparison to the outpouring of joy that would follow any Hekari victory at this star-studded competition. Yet although Oceania’s 2009 representatives, Auckland City, managed to beat both the host representatives and the African champions, Muta knows just how difficult it will be to emulate that feat.
He said: “I watch many of our opponents on television and know how professional they are and what skills and qualities they bring to the tournament. To win the OFC Champions League took a special group, but for us to go and face the best clubs in the world will mean we have to work even harder to achieve a result.”
Furthermore, while dreams of facing Sneijder, Eto’o et al are inevitable with these global superstars in such close proximity, Muta believes the biggest mistake Hekari could make is to look beyond their FIFA Club World Cup opener against Al Wahda.
“We have to focus on our first game and not worry about the future beyond this match,” he said. “It is our first time on the world stage and we know that our opponents will be passionate about doing better than [UAE’s representatives] last year. But if we can do well in the first match and concentrate on defending well and limiting our mistakes, we may cause a surprise.”