In 2004 Vanuatu achieved arguably the greatest upset in Oceania’s FIFA World Cup™ history when they routed New Zealand in stunning fashion with a 4-2 scoreline. The man who masterminded that result was Carlos Buzzetti, a colourful and passionate Uruguayan-born football obsessive, who has become somewhat of an icon in Oceanian football circles over the past decade-and-a-half via his work with Vanuatu and Fiji’s various national teams.
Buzzetti brought significant success to Vanuatu with the national team transformed from a mid-level side to continental major players. A tough 1-0 OFC Nations Cup defeat against a strong Australia in 2000, and an unlucky failure to reach the 2004 Olympic Games play-off, are both testament to Buzzetti’s tireless groundwork and powers of inspiration.
More recently, Buzzetti has been guiding Fiji’s footballing fortunes from the ground-up in his role as the nation’s technical director, although there were still two spells as national team coach. Once again Buzzetti’s gold dust rained down, and his tenure has coincided with major milestones in the nation’s football history.
Under Buzzetti, Fiji were the only team to beat New Zealand during their entire 2010 FIFA World Cup campaign; the Kiwis’ opposition including Paraguay and world champions Italy, no less. More recently, the Melanesians created their own slice of history by qualifying for their first-ever FIFA tournament. Fiji will feature at next year’s FIFA U-20 World Cup in New Zealand after a near flawless campaign from a team largely based on products of the Buzzetti-managed national academy.
The long and winding road
Having tallied 40 years in the coaching system, including the past four FIFA World Cup campaigns as national team boss, Buzzetti has enjoyed an odyssey few can match. Perhaps it was always meant to be. Born in 1945, Buzzetti hails from rich footballing stock. His uncle was a long-serving president of Montevideo giants Penarol, while illness prevented his father from possible selection for La Celeste’s famed 1924 Olympic Games gold medal winning team.
Seeking new opportunities Buzzetti made a new home for his family in Australia during the middle of the 1974 World Cup. “You wouldn’t have known the World Cup was on,” Buzzetti told FIFA.com with a wry smile. This despite the fact Australia were making their World Cup debut. And while it was very much a culture shock for the football obsessive, the Uruguayan soon embraced life in the New World. Buzzetti spent two decades as one of Australia’s state institute coaches, before his unlikely, but irresistible, opportunity arose in Vanuatu.
Oceania’s rich natural resources
Buzzetti, who has long had a role as a technical advisor on FIFA’s worldwide list of instructors, is perhaps better placed than anyone to comment on the state of football development in the Pacific. The likes of Solomon Islands and Tahiti have demonstrated incredible natural football skill to a global audience at recent Futsal and Beach Soccer World Cups. Harnessing that raw talent, however, is the next challenge.
“They play football with unbelievable natural skill and ability,” Buzzetti says about Pacific Island players. “But they don’t necessarily have the capability to best use that. They need to be coached. Aside from natural ability, Pacific Island players have what you could say ‘happy bodies’, they have good movement and are strong.”
Investment, Buzzetti says, is paramount. Fiji has been granted three FIFA Goal projects over the years totalling USD $1.2 million, all of which contribute to the development of their technical infrastructures. Vanuatu, for their part, have had six infrastructure projects for the development of their technical centre, for a total amount of USD $2.6 million, with one of the projects being specifically for their national youth academy.
Since 2009, all Member Associations are obliged to employ a Technical Director, and Buzzetti is living proof of the role’s importance. “Times are changing because of the academies that have been set up with FIFA’s support, which has allowed the islands to have proper facilities and develop players from an early age,” Buzzetti says. “You can see the standard of football has improved a lot. You need to build from the bottom.
“The islands have changed so much and FIFA’s Goal projects have brought about a change. I have seen the changes happen, and the evolution of football happen.”
In recent times Tahiti have featured in both the FIFA Confederations Cup and FIFA U-20 World Cup, and also turned in some stunning displays to reach last year’s FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup semi-finals. And, even though football is not the number one sport in many Oceania nations, Buzzetti remains optimistic about the incremental growth of on-field standards in the Pacific. “The stronger nations have developed to a higher standard. The benchmark has been raised. The difference now is that players have been learning good habits from a much earlier age.”
Buzzetti’s mantra is very much ‘long term planning equates to long-term growth’. It is somehow appropriate then that the Oceania’s first B License course to be held outside New Zealand will take place this December in Fiji under the watchful eye of the veteran. “Fiji has developed rapidly. We have a goal for what we want to achieve in the future, and we have a board that wants to continue improving.”
The 69-year-old is reluctant to be drawn on the idea of a Pacific nation featuring at a senior World Cup, but points to U-20 World Cup qualification, and near-misses at U-23 level as important steps. “Oceania is the world’s baby confederation. The education for coaches is very good, and of a high quality now. The football evolution is there.
“In life nothing is impossible,” concludes Buzzetti. Indeed, it is a statement that could easily be applied to his own long and fruitful football journey.