Samoa’s and Solomon Islands’ search for technical directors went international this year, calling on Italy-born Valerio Raccuglia to swap Wellington for Polynesia, and former La Liga coach Felipe Vega-Arango Alonso to uproot his life in Spain for a taste of Melanesian football.
With less than three months of experience in their demanding roles, Raccuglia and Vega-Arango Alonso are taking part in the FIFA MA Technical Directors course this week, meeting fellow technical directors, OFC staff and FIFA instructors for the first time to gain deeper insight about the role – and the region.
“The course has been very good. I’ve learned a lot and it’s a valuable tool for us to all meet. It’s nice to see everyone and put faces to names,” Raccuglia said.
“It’s been interesting for me, and very different. I’m coming from the professional football environment in Spain so it’s the first time that I’m learning and working at this kind of level,” Vega-Arango Alonso added.
Working with the local technical directors has helped fast-track their understanding of the Oceania football culture and they’re finding they’re all facing similar experiences across Oceania.
“It’s good because we all work in the same region and we’ve got similar problems so it’s nice to share what we do in our islands, what they do in their islands and explore solutions,” Raccuglia said.
“Nobody keeps any secrets and it’s very nice that we can open up and talk about things,” he added.
Discussions with their fellow technical directors has also helped the pair identify ways of adapting concepts to fit the unique situations in their member associations.
“Some have passed through the same kind of challenges so you get to learn from their past experience but at the same time, speaking with all of them, the situation in the Solomon Islands is extreme, they have never been through anything like that,” Vega-Arango Alonso said.
“The first thing I learned here was to adapt. Something that’s successful in New Zealand won’t necessarily work somewhere else so you have to adapt to the situation, to the community, and to where you are,” Raccuglia added.
The past three months have been a rollercoaster ride for Raccuglia and Vega-Arango Alonso as they both try to transition to island life while discovering the obstacles of working in the Pacific.
“Living in the islands has been a big eye-opener,” Raccuglia said.
“I had never been on an island unless it was a resort so it’s been interesting living and adapting to a life in Samoa, but I absolutely love it. Love it to pieces. I think I was born to live on a hot island.”
Vega-Arango Alonso’s move to Melanesia has come with plenty of obstacles, but the current situation in the football-mad country has only inspired the Spaniard to keeping exploring and testing new approaches to development.
“In the Solomon Islands, things work a little different. Building football in a developing country, everything takes a little longer, and it can be hard to find qualified people,” he said.
“This is the first time in my life that I’ve worked in a country where the children don’t have teams to play in, and 60 per cent of the population of the Solomon Islands are children.
“People love football in the Solomon Islands, whereas in Fiji, Samoa and New Zealand they love rugby more. Solomon Islands is pure football, and I find it strange to have a country this passionate about football but with very little in place.
“It’s going to be difficult to change, but a good learning experience.”
Taking on a difficult role in a foreign culture has come with many sacrifices and setbacks, but the reward of making an impact – and the opportunities for personal growth and learning – makes the obstacles worth tackling.
“I have to develop every single thing in football in the country so it’s tough but the feedback is always positive and they are all really nice people and I am enjoying their company a lot,” Vega-Arango Alonso said.
“That’s been the best part of my whole time in the role.”
Enlightened after their experience during the FIFA MA Technical Director’s course, both technical directors are eager to return to their island homes as leaders for positive change.
“Collaboration and adaptation have been the main things for me this week – I’m definitely taking lots of friends back with me to Samoa,” Raccuglia said.
“I really want to have a bit more influence on the coaches back in Samoa and hopefully I’ll have the chance when I go back.”