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Tonga’s football maestro

Tongan football legend Kilifi Uele. Photo Credit: OFC Media via Phototek

Few people have more experience in Tongan football than Kilifi Uele.

He’s seen a lot during his lengthy stint in the game and has been the Technical Director for the Tonga Football Association since 2005.

His international playing career began more than 20 years ago and he was part of the silver-medal-winning Tongan squad at the 1994 Polynesia Cup.

His last appearance for the national team was in 2017 and he is their most capped player.

Uele is acknowledged as one of the oldest goal-scorers in international football after netting as a 43-year-old against New Caledonia in 2017; his only other international strike came in 2003.

He was also a member of the Tongan squad as they made their maiden appearance at the OFC Beach Soccer Nations Cup last year.

“I had to be fit both physically and mentally,” he said of what has allowed him to play for so long.

“It gives me a great sense of pride to represent my country.”

At 45, his best playing years are behind him, but he remains motivated in his role to lay the platform for the next generation of Tongan footballers.

“I have a lot of passion about the game. It’s my vision that I want to leave a legacy in football here in Tonga and the OFC region,” he said.

The midfielder developed that passion for the game after growing up in a small football-minded village and he has represented club side Veitongo FC for many years, including one appearance during this year’s Qualifying Stage for the OFC Champions League in January.

His commitment to the game is unrivalled in Tonga and Uele has been involved with Tongan football for a number of big moments during the past 20 years.

He said his highlights were coaching the national women’s team at the 2007 Pacific Games when they won a silver medal and coaching their youth team when they finished runners-up at the OFC U-19 Women’s Championship in 2006.

Before the coronavirus pandemic put the football world on hold, a new project was launched in Tonga to help promote the women’s game across six islands in the Kingdom.

When life returns to normal, the project will give women in the country further opportunities to play football.

Uele noted there was a lot of potential in the game in Tonga and said they were regularly looking at ways to introduce people to football.

“We do a lot of capacity building such as running courses, workshops and seminars, and greater media coverage will help shine light on the game.”

Uele said having clear pathways for players with consistent coaching would ensure they can continue to develop quality footballers in Tonga.

OFC Player Development Officer Phill Parker worked with Uele in Tonga and said he was a valuable member of the football community in Oceania.

“Kilifi Uele is a legend of the game in Tonga with an international career spanning more than 20 years. Being a former teacher has enabled Kilifi to effectively plan the Tonga Football Association technical department’s priorities in order to create a football legacy for the Kingdom of Tonga,” Parker said.

“Kilifi’s years of knowledge about the region’s football landscape is a huge asset to the Oceania Football Confederation and its ambitions.”

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