Samoan star shines bright
From his days as a teen prodigy playing in FIFA World Cup™ qualifiers as a tender 15-year-old, Samoan forward Desmond Fa’aiuaso has long been making waves and achieving breakthrough success. The speedy striker recently became the first Samoan to compete in the New Zealand Football Championship (NZFC), arguably the principal domestic league in Oceania.
Not that it has been an easy road for the slender Fa’aiuaso whose international induction included an 11-0 loss to Australia in the qualifying campaign for Korea/Japan 2002. A couple of years out of the game in order to play rugby has failed to dent his ability and has served only to increase his desire for accomplishment.
Capable of playing as a lone striker or on the flanks, as he does for YoungHeart Manawatu, one of New Zealand’s premier clubs, Fa’aiuaso also proved his versatility during his two-year sabbatical from the game. Despite a slight stature, he demonstrated his sporting prowess by appearing for the national Rugby Sevens team, no mean feat given the traditional popularity of the game in Samoa.
With two brothers, Mark and Mike, also representing the country on the football pitch, it is clear a natural athletic ability exists in the genes. After being head-hunted by YoungHeart, Fa’aiuaso decided to take the road less travelled by venturing overseas to ply his trade. Few Samoans have tried their luck offshore, with national team goalkeeper Pasi Schwalger, who plays at second-tier level in Australia, being a rare exception. Although it has not been a completely fresh experience for Fa’aiuaso who had a previous stint for AS Pirae three years ago, with the Tahitian club nearly claiming a shock OFC O-League title.
It is the move to New Zealand however which has broadened Fa’aiuaso's experiences on and off the field. “The big difference between New Zealand and Samoa is the weather,” he said with a wry smile. “The football is a higher level compared to back home in terms of skill and also physically.”
Fa’aiuaso shyly answers “no” when asked if he sees himself as a role-model for young Samoan footballers, but adds that he would like to see others play overseas. “There are a lot of very talented players in Samoa at the moment but they are quite young, and they need to play at a high level to bring them up further.”
Tim Cahill is by far the most well-known player with a Samoan connection. The Australian superstar, whose mother is Samoan, is known to have close affinity with the island nation and visited Samoa last year on a goodwill journey. Cahill recently celebrating a goal for Everton by imitating a traditional Samoan canoe stroke as a tribute to the devastating tsunami which struck the Pacific in September.
Cahill’s younger brother Chris is a contemporary of Fa’aiuaso with the pair having played in Samoa’s South Africa 2010 qualification campaign. Fa’aiuaso scored two goals as Samoa fell one win short of progressing to the second and final Oceania group stage, with the striker already counting the days until the 2011 South Pacific games.
Fa’aiuaso injured his quadriceps in the first training session in New Zealand “because of the cold”, but made a belated debut a month into the NZFC season. The Samoan is paired in the forward line with Vanuatu national team striker Seule Soromon where the duo forms a unique and dynamic Pacific-based spearhead for YoungHeart. In contrast to Fa’aiuaso’s injury-plagued start, Soromon kicked-off his season by securing the NZFC Player of the Month award with five goals in the opening four matches. But, by his mere presence on the field, it is Fa’aiuaso that is forging a new pathway.