Tahitian football legend Marama Vahirua is drawing on over 300 matches worth of professional experience in France’s top flight to breathe a killer instinct through his AS Dragon teammates as their 2018 OFC Champions League campaign draws closer.
A former France U-21 international who won the Ligue 1 title with Nantes in 2001, Papeete-born Vahirua was once feared lost to Tahiti football but made his long-awaited debut for the Toa Aito at the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup. He retired from professional football following that tournament and returned to play for AS Pirae, the club of his youth.
This season, the player once nicknamed ‘Tahitigoal’ by French fans has made the move to AS Dragon from AS Temanava, lured by the chance to play at the highest level of club competition in the region.
“I joined Dragon this season because Coach [Timiona] Asen had asked me several times and this season they had qualified for the OFC Champions League. I’m very happy with the decision. I knew they had many talented players and think we can achieve something in both the league and in the champions league.”
Vahirua, who at 37 is nearing the end of his playing career, also believes he has something to offer his younger teammates and it is a role he takes very seriously.
“My job is to help players to focus and also to help give them a winner’s spirit because here in Tahiti you play for fun.”
“I try to show them that you can have fun when you play but you need to be professional in many ways – through results but through behaviour too. Getting results against elite teams requires some investment in your personal life. You need a healthy life and a healthy diet.
“Once you are on the pitch you need to make quick decisions. Players are used to taking more time to receive the ball, look for an option, then making a pass but instead you need to be two or three steps ahead and know what you’re going to do before you get the ball.”
Vahirua’s experience has already born fruit in terms of recruitment, with the Tahitian able to coax former AS Nancy teammate Reynald Lemaitre to the Pacific.
Unsurprisingly, Vahirua is clear about his ambition and the part he plays in instilling further belief in the Tahiti champions.
“We want to be the first Tahitian club to qualify for the FIFA Club World Cup but even to make the final of the Champions League will be an achievement. It won’t be easy, of course, as every team sets out with the same goal.
“My job is to make my teammates believe and be confident of their chances to win through to the final.
“Every year we always hear Auckland City is the best team in the Champions League. And yes, it’s true that they are the best currently because they’ve been winning for years now. But I’ve noticed that we here don’t have the mentality to say that this year we’re going to beat them. We don’t have to live with the idea that they’re up there and we’re down there. We have to have a fighting spirit to say that we’re going to beat them.
“We can look to other teams for inspiration. It’s not always the best team that wins in football. We can look to the example of teams like Leicester City winning the league in England – anything is possible if you believe.”
AS Dragon begin their Group B campaign on Sunday local time (Monday NZT) against New Caledonia’s AS Lossi, preceded by the opening clash between Solomon Warriors and Vanuatu’s Erakor Golden Star.