Starting with very little in the way of organised activities didn’t stop Fiji international Roy Krishna from becoming a leading footballer in Oceania.
But it didn’t help.
Krishna was one of the keynote speakers at the FIFA/OFC Club Licensing Seminar yesterday, sharing his journey from starting out barefoot in Labasa to becoming a starter with New Zealand’s only professional team the Wellington Phoenix, playing in Australia’s A-League.
“When I was growing up we didn’t have grassroots football, during my time we had nothing,” the 29-year-old said.
“We just played on a bad field with no gear, barefoot.”
Things have turned out better than the Fijian striker could have dreamed, but he said it could have been different had those opportunities at youth level existed back when he was starting out.
“I think it shows that not having a grassroots programme made it more difficult for me to develop as a footballer,” he said.
“I became a professional when I was 26 and I think if I came through a better grassroots system I would have become a professional much earlier.”
With the introduction of a Club Licensing System to OFC and its Member Associations the path followed by Krishna becomes even more relevant.
“I didn’t know anything about football until I came to the U-20 Championship with OFC. Up until that competition,
I was just a regular guy playing in school, playing in my village with my friends and that was it,” Krishna explained.
“When I look back on that time and when I consider club licensing and what it involves, I certainly think that a better understanding of football will helps kids and the path to professionalism will be clearer.”
In addition to implementing opportunities for young players via their clubs in the form of competitions and activities, Krishna believes having the right people around them will help players make the leap from amateur to professional.
“The mentality of a footballer is such an important thing and for me, I think having good people around really made a difference for me especially when I left Fiji,” he said.
“I was really lucky to have certain people in my life watching out for me when I came to Auckland. They kept me away from any distractions and I was able to focus on football.
“I learned that I had to listen to my family and keep a good mind-set to achieve my goals.”
Krishna said Pacific Island people have a very specific mentality and mind-set and he is no different.
“I think there is a common mind-set among islanders; that if someone passes comments on the field you’ll want to be tough and maybe kick out.
“But there’s other ways of approaching these things. When I first came to New Zealand and someone kicked me, I reacted straight away by wanting to smash them – as many islanders would too,” he said.
“Now, I’m learning that you have to be patient and you have to change your own mentality and approach to these things.”
Krishna gave an example of his on-field behaviour early on in his career with Waitakere United in Auckland, where in ten matches he picked up three red cards and how that was a turning point for him.
“I was getting red carded and the club was paying the fine,” he recalled.
“What they did to teach me a lesson was they decided if I got a red card, I would have to pay the fine.
“Once that sunk in, if people kicked out at me I would just smile and walk away.”
This is an example of Krishna having the right people around him to help, but he insisted that he had to also take responsibility himself.
“That approach definitely helped me, but I think there’s also an element that comes from your side as well. You can’t just be spoon-fed all the time.
“I think it’s in your personal interest as well to learn.”
Krishna’s own journey is something he is open to talking about, and one of the elements he especially enjoyed about being invited to take part in the seminar, is knowing there are so many opportunities on the horizon for the region’s premier international club competition.
“When I think about clubs in the OFC Champions League of course Auckland City are always the favourites because they’re a strong club.
“But I think the island teams are getting closer now. They don’t have the facilities, they don’t travel a lot and it’s hard.
“I also think club licensing is going to help all of these clubs and make the Champions League for one, more interesting.
“It’s not going to be a one-horse race, it’s going to be that teams like Hekari United, for example, starting to do really well,” he said.
“I think it will be be great for Auckland City in terms of competiveness, and great for the competition in general as well.”
One of the reason’s Krishna makes a point of mentioning the Champions League, is the important role the competition has had on his career.
“One of the highlights for me was playing for Auckland City when we went to the Club World Cup and I scored a goal.
“I think from there, the Phoenix saw that and thought, ‘ok this guy can score goals’.
“The bigger the occasion, the better for you and now if you have more players exposed to these big opportunities that can only be good for Oceania as a region on the global stage.”