Didier Simane missed a lot of the lead in to AS Magenta’s 2017 OFC Champions League campaign but the 20-year-old has quickly established himself as an integral member of the squad.
“I joined the team about two weeks before the competition,” he said.
“Fortunately, I was training alone at home and I was able to catch up to the level the team is at and I’m proud of that.”
Although grateful to be discovering Champions League football with one of New Caledonia’s most successful clubs, there remains a sense of unfinished business with Simane.
At 18 years old he left New Caledonia to pursue his dream of a professional career.
“I dream of being a professional,” he said, “so at 18 I left.
“I spent four or five months in France at Imphy Decizs in Bourgogne, then six to seven months in Italy,” he explained.
“First with Guilianova and then in a club next to Rome, still in Série C.”
Simane was experiencing what he had always dreamed of and things couldn’t have been better.
“We were paid, we lived for football. Training, it was serious, physical, repetitive, and always very tactical.
“In Italy, everyone has their position, we run less, it’s the ball that advances.”
Despite enjoying an element of success and the chance to live out his dream, Simane’s stint as a pro ended a lot earlier than he would have liked.
“It was discussed between the presidents of my old club and my new Italian club, my registration was blocked.
“I couldn’t risk going a year without playing. Even if over there I was exposed to a bit of racism, it was a good experience.
“It is a large regret of mine that I wasn’t successful. But maybe one day I will be able to head over there again.
“But to be honest, right now I am concentrating on the semi-finals and Italy – well that comes later.”
Simane is clearly a kid with his head screwed firmly on his shoulders and that shows in his performances on the field.
Coach Alain Moizan lost two experienced starters from his squad in the pre-season, both central midfielders Cedric Sansot and Joel Wakanamune, but with Simane coming into the line-up he wasn’t as worried as he could have been.
“Straight away he understood things,” Moizan said of his recruit.
“This year I have a midfielder with more vitality. Didier is very strong technically and he brings a new dimension physically.”
Looking at how he performed during the Group Stage last month, Moizan said Simane stepped up when the team needed him.
“Against Central, it was him who made the team work: impact, recovery, distribution. He’s the future of the national team.”
While it remains to be seen whether he will earn a call-up to June’s FIFA World Cup Russia™ Qualifiers – OFC Stage 3 matches against Fiji, Simane has certainly caught national coach Thierry Sardo’s eye.
“He’s very elegant. And here he’s in a very structured team which will help him to make the step up a level,” Sardo said.
Simane himself knows that unseating the experienced central duo of Sansot and Wakanamune from their place in the heart of Les Cagous won’t be easy.
“There is a lot of competition with Wakanamune and Sansot in the middle of the field. But I will do everything to put myself in the running,” he said.
“It’s not an easy position to play. Playing in the middle of the field you have to run, you need endurance and a certain physicality.
“I think with the help of the coach I’ve been able to manage and adapt well to the role and hopefully Thierry Sardo likes what he sees and will consider me for the national team.”