OFC Technical Director Patrick Jacquemet was remaining impartial while watching Group C of the OFC Champions League in Auckland but fond ties to Tahiti’s AS Venus has been putting that neutrality to the test.
Charged with a broad brief of raising technical standards across the Pacific,
Jacquemet’s role covers everything from coach, player, referee and development to lifting the performance of OFC teams in international competitions, helping Member Associations with their long-term development planning and even increasing participation.
On top of that it takes into account how OFC and its members can integrate or build upon work being done on competition structures and international activity and of course OFC events to help deliver long-term progress.
It’s a big ask and Jacquemet is proud but realistic about the gains being made as he surveys not just the current (expanded) OFC Champions League but the effects of, among other things, more age group teams competing at FIFA events and a strengthened coach-development programme.
“I’m not sure if it’s fair for me to say yes – lots of progress has been made – but we can see the game is improving a lot,“ Jacquemet says.
“On the benches we have a lot of coaches who have been through the B License or A License here in New Zealand.
“The game is more and more structured – and we saw the result the other night in Honiara between Marist and Team Wellington showed there is a lot of progress for sure.
“Even at the World Cup level with the U-20s and U-17s last year with New Zealand and Vanuatu in the U-20s and New Zealand and New Caledonia in the U-17s. When you have Vanuatu losing 3-2 to Germany or to Mexico at the last minute or even New Caledonia getting a 1-1 draw against Japan it’s huge for us. It means we can see some good progress. There is lots to do but at the end we can be proud of what’s happened on the field.”
Jacquemet arrived in Oceania from Europe as his playing career as a goalkeeper with ASOA Valance in France was winding down, two and a half decades ago, for what was meant to be a fleeting visit.
“I arrived in the Pacific in 1992 with the intention of staying just for three months,” Jacquemet said while watching teams warm up at Trusts Arena on match day one.
“I was at the end of my contract with my club in France and looking for a new contract and I received the offer to come to Tahiti for three months just to finish the season.”
During that first stay, he lived with the Mayor of Papeete who convinced him to stay on and take up a sports administration role in the city.
He was an advisor and technical director for AS Venus until 2000 – and stayed on in a playing capacity for the club for some of those seasons, playing in the OFC Club Championship in 1999.
He even picked up a couple of caps for Tahiti and would later take the coaching reins of the Toa Aito including at the 2002 OFC Nations Cup.
He worked for Tahiti Football Federation (FTF) from 2000 to 2005 then moved to New Zealand, first as a FIFA Development Official then as OFC Technical Director, a role he has had since 2010.
While his experience within the region now extends across all corners of Oceania, he still has a soft spot for the club that drew him to this part of the world all those years ago.
“For me in terms of memories, it’s very intense because I came to this region, to the Pacific, because of this club.
“It all started with the youth of the club. When I see this Venus team now I know most of the players because they were perhaps two or three years old and some started football with me at seven or eight years old and they are still there.
“Samuel, the coach, he arrived when I was there too, the fans are the same – it’s a big part of my life and I’m very proud to see these young guys play.
Jacquemet said he had reasons to be impressed by all four teams playing in Group C and while he had a reason to follow AS Venus a little more closely.
“I’m not allowed to cheer for Venus but I’m here for the football. But to see a club like Venus with eight under-19 players on the field, it means that their development is on the way and that’s what we want from all clubs.
“We saw Madang arriving with just 12 players for their first match but we saw the way they played and moved the ball so we can see some improvement. Auckland City has been the Oceania representative at the FIFA Club World and have done so well over a number of years.
“Of course I will be neutral.”
AS Venus has since been knocked out of quarterfinal contention but will play for pride against Papua New Guinea’s Madang FC on Saturday before the already qualified pair of Auckland City FC and Lautoka FC meet to decide who goes through as group winner when Group C concludes.