Athale an emerging leader

The Ouvea-native joins two of his cousins Brandon Meaou and Jacky Wetawea in a relatively established line-up and thanks to their presence has easily found his way.
“Having family in the team motivates me,” he explains.
“They talk to me every night and let me know that I’ve played well and that motivates me, especially when we lost.
“I’m really enjoying this experience, it’s a good group and we’re really hoping for some good results to make our country proud.”
Many of Athale’s teammates, including his cousin Brandon Meaou, were in the team which took the OFC U-17 Championship by storm in 2013.
While he’s been a late arrival, Athale has wasted no time making an impression and wore the captain’s armband in New Caledonia’s opening match against Vanuatu.
“For me that was a huge honour,” he says.
“Not only does it show the confidence the coaches have in me, but also the players. I hope that I represented them to my best.”
You’d be forgiven for thinking Athale’s omission from the U-17 squad had something to do with the fact he only picked up the sport in recent years.
In fact, the youngster started playing with the round ball so young even he can’t remember when he first kicked a ball.
“I started when I was young – five years old. Maybe even one? It was my parent who got me into it and I played with my brothers and sisters growing up.”
Back home he has been winning titles with AS Wetr since way back and hopes that in this, his final year in the youth set-up, he can add to the two Coupe de Calédonie and Championship titles he already has.
Given how New Caledonia performed in Vanuatu at the OFC U-17 competition, where they finished runners-up to New Zealand, there was high hopes for the side coming into the 20th edition of the OFC U-20 Championship.
However, it hasn’t been an easy ride for emerging talent Athale and his compatriots.
Two opening losses really dented their chances of qualifying for the FIFA U-20 World Cup in 2015 with a first place finish which has been disappointing, but Athale says the players should be proud of their performances.
“For me we’ve played well. That said, when you don’t score off the opportunities you have you pay for it later,” he rues.
“All the matches have been difficult. We can only take them one at a time, and always keep trying to win.”
They ended that losing with a 3-1 win over Solomon Islands and continued it with a 5-1 victory over Papua New Guinea, and on Saturday hope a successful outcome against American Samoa can see them leave Suva with their heads held high.
Athale found the back of the net in both those matches, and says he always believed the team had it in them.
“We had to rebuild our morale after losing those first two matches,” Athale says.
“We left it too late to win this competition, but we can’t give up or stop trying until it’s over – and it’s not over yet.”
He is 100 per cent focused on finishing the tournament on a positive note, but still has his eye on catching the right kind of attention.
“There are a few young Caledonians who can go to the next level. I would love to be one of them playing in France, England or Germany.”
There’s no doubt he has the talent, but does he have the drive?
“I will give my all to go as far as possible. I would love to become a professional one day.”
New Caledonia will play their final match of the OFC U-20 Championship against American Samoa with kick-off scheduled for 2.30pm.


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