As one of the OFC Champions League’s most experienced players, Papua New Guinea and Hekari United captain David Muta relishes every appearance in Oceania’s premier international club competition.
“This competition means a lot to me,” he says.
“We get to play against most of the best players in the Pacific. It’s always a good challenge and I look forward to playing in this competition.”
Since winning the competition in 2010 and representing Oceania at the FIFA Club World Cup, the side has been undergoing a rebuilding period.
This year after winning their first two matches at QBE Stadium in Auckland, Hekari United looked on track to make the semi-finals for the first time in a long time.
However a 4-0 loss in their final match to Team Wellington effectively ended campaign to the great disappointment of Muta and his teammates.
Now, the 28-year-old is turning his attention to the upcoming OFC Nations Cup where he will finally have an opportunity to play in front of home fans after missing out on last year’s XV Pacific Games.
In the past the Pacific Games was a senior competition, but in 2015 it was played between U-23 men which ruled Muta out of contention.
“I was really disappointed. I had been looking forward to it as it was our home ground in Papua New Guinea.”
Although he wasn’t taking to the field, Muta still donned team colours after taking up the unofficial role of fan coordinator – a position he relished as a proud Papua New Guinea native.
“Since I couldn’t play I decided that maybe I should go and support all teh teams, the men and women at the same time. I want to show the young boys especially that I’m a senior player but I was always there for them.”
The home support paid dividends for both sides as the women successfully defended their gold medal while the boys picked up an historic bronze.
“I was proud and happy that we took something home in the football. For many years we, the senior players, were playing in this competition and we weren’t getting any medals.
“But they were the ones to break the record and get a medal and I was so happy and pleased for them.”
Muta will be playing alongside some of those players come the Nations Cup, and national team coach Flemming Serritslev believes his experience and leadership will be key to those young players integrating into the squad.
“David Muta is a fantastic, committed player and he is really the finest representation for Papua New Guinea that you can imagine,” enthuses Serritslev.
“The way he plays, his behaviour on the pitch and outside the pitch. I know because when we were in Solomon Islands recently he was still the captain even if he didn’t take part in training or matches.”
The national team will have a strong base from both Hekari United and Lae City Dwellers and Serritslev has spent just over a week in New Zealand checking out his players, and potential opponents.
He says what he has seen of Muta during the competition has been impressive, but he believes his captain can do better.
“To be honest, he can play even better. Not that he has been playing bad but it’s very easy to see that he is still suffering from the injury that prevented him from playing against the Solomon Islands.”
Muta is looking forward to the challenge ahead and truly believes that Papua New Guinea will experience success in Port Moresby.
“I am ready and looking forward for that competition,” he says.
“No matter what I am trying my best and training hard and I can’t wait for it to get started.”
As for his new coach, Papua New Guinea’s fourth in as many years, Muta says Serritslev offers something new and different which is what the team needs.
“Flemming is such a great coach,” he says.
“He’s so humble and he really loves to work with the boys. He’s a little bit funny, and he’s a good fellow. We all respect him and he’s a good coach.”
From Serritslev’s end the feeling is mutal.
“It’s very important that you have a leader on the pitch but also in my opinion, outside the pitch,” Serritslev says.
“He’s an idol in his way of living, in his way of performing when he’s able to train and when he’s able to play.
“I’m very satisfied with David and actually, I didn’t expect to find such a perosn in PNG who actually has the experience to be a top player.
“A top player for me isn’t just a good footballer – it’s also a very good person.”
Both Papua New Guinea clubs are out of the running at the 2016 OFC Champions League and attention will now turn to the 2016 OFC Nations Cup.
The host nation has been grouped alongside Tahiti, New Caledonia and Samoa for the competition which runs from 28 May to 11 June in Port Moresby.