The talented duo held off the challenge of a raft of the Pacific’s finest players to receive the accolades and, despite a strong field in both categories, emerged as clear winners after 12 months of both personal milestones and major contributions to team success.
Voting was open to members of the OFC Executive Committee, as well as presidents, general secretaries, national team coaches and technical directors from each of the 11 member associations within Oceania.
It is the first time either player has received the award - New Zealand pair Ryan Nelsen and Ali Riley were the 2010 winners – and their dual recognition is also a significant moment in that both awards have previously gone to New Zealand players in the three years since a women’s category was introduced in 2008.
Kai, 29, becomes the first Pacific Islands player to earn the male gong since Tahiti’s Marama Vahirua picked it up in 2005 and has broken the Kiwi stranglehold thanks largely to an outstanding showing at the XIV Pacific Games, held in his home country during August and September.
The sharp-shooter put in a series of inspired performances to finish as the tournament’s Golden Boot winner with 10 strikes and help New Caledonia all the way to gold on their own soil. He was also a key figure domestically for his Hienghene Sport club and is sure to play an important role as Les Cagous enter the third stage of Oceania qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ later this year.
Germany-based Smith has been just as vital to the respective causes of her teams and wrote herself into the folklore of the women’s game in New Zealand at the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany™.
The Football Ferns captain was one of only two New Zealand stars to be singled out as an ‘Outstanding Player’ by the FIFA Technical Study Group at the World Cup - the other was fellow nominee Katie Hoyle – and was at the heart of a historic moment, scoring in the 2-2 draw with Mexico as New Zealand earned its first ever point at the event.
Smith, 31, also achieved a personal milestone in 2011 when she played her 50th international - a friendly against Australia in May - and continued to carve out a groundbreaking professional career overseas with Frauen Bundesliga outfit VfL Wolfsburg.
OFC General Secretary Tai Nicholas says it is important for Oceania’s best to be recognised.
“On behalf of OFC, I would like to congratulate our two winners on their achievements,” he says. “We have had arguably a higher calibre of candidates from the Pacific than ever before for 2011 so to win the award is a real achievement. Bertrand and Rebecca have stood out amongst a very strong group and are fully deserving of these accolades.”
The OFC Player of the Year Award has been made annually since 1988 with players from Australia and New Zealand dominating the list.
The first recipient was Frank Farina from Australia and other notable winners include New Zealand’s Wynton Rufer and Shane Smeltz, Australia’s Harry Kewell, Robbie Slater, Mark Viduka, Mark Bosnich, Tim Cahill and Brett Emerton, and New Caledonia’s Christian Karembeu.
In 1999, Rufer was named OFC Player of the Century while Bosnich was deemed OFC Goalkeeper of the Century.
For the full list of 2011 nominees please see below.
OFC Player of the Year Award 2011 (Men)
Georges GOPE-FENEPEJ (NCL): AS Magenta, New Caledonia International, second top-scorer XIV Pacific Games
Bertrand KAI (NCL): Hienghene Sport, New Caledonia International, Golden Boot XIV Pacific Games
Brian KALTACK (VAN): Waterside Karori (NZL), Vanuatu International, Wellington Phoenix scholarship
Daniel KOPRIVCIC (NZL): Auckland City, New Zealand Futsal International, Golden Ball 2011 O-League, first player to appear at four FIFA Club World Cups
David MUTA (PNG): Hekari United (captain), Papua New Guinea International (captain)
Elliot RAGOMO (SOL): Solomon Islands Futsal International (captain), Golden Boot and Golden Ball OFC Futsal Championship 2011
Winston REID (NZL): West Ham United (ENG), New Zealand International
Shane SMELTZ (NZL): Perth Glory (AUS), New Zealand International, second player to score 50 A-League goals
Chris WOOD (NZL): Birmingham City (loan), West Bromwich Albion (ENG), New Zealand International
Teva ZAVERONI (TAH): Tahiti Beach Soccer International
OFC Player of the Year Award 2011 (Women)
Abby ERCEG (NZL): Adelaide United (captain) (AUS), New Zealand International
Sarah GREGORIUS (NZL): Bad Neuenahr (GER), New Zealand International
Amber HEARN (NZL): USV Jena (GER), New Zealand International
Katie HOYLE (NZL): Bad Neuenahr (GER), New Zealand International, ‘Outstanding Player’ FIFA Technical Study Group FWWC 2011
Miriam LANTA (PNG): Yamaros (captain), Papua New Guinea International (captain)
Ria PERCIVAL (NZL): FFC Frankfurt (GER), New Zealand International
Ali RILEY (NZL): Western New York Flash (USA), New Zealand International
Deslyn SINIU (PNG): University Inter, Papua New Guinea International
Rebecca SMITH (NZL): VfL Wolfsburg (GER), New Zealand International, ‘Outstanding Player’ FIFA Technical Study Group FWWC 2011
Christelle WAHNAWE (NCL): OB Angers (FRA), New Caledonia International (captain)