With his professional club debut coming up at the mature age of 29, Brian Kaltak is used to waiting for his opportunity.
So when his first appearance for A-League side Central Coast Mariners was postponed last weekend due to a rainstorm, the Vanuatu men’s national team captain immediately looked at the positives – and a homecoming of sorts in New Zealand the following week.
“Everything happens for a reason you know,” Kaltak told OFC Media earlier this week.
“Maybe my debut was just meant to be against the Wellington Phoenix.”
Central Coast Mariners take on New Zealand’s only professional club this Sunday at Sky Stadium in Wellington, the city where Kaltak’s senior footballing journey began with Waterside Karori as an 18-year-old. The 20-cap international even spent time with the Phoenix in 2011 but, ultimately, did not sign with the club.
“I was buzzing for last week, but it did not work out because of the rain,” said Kaltak.
“I am really looking forward to coming back to New Zealand. That is where I started my football journey, and it would be good to make my debut there. It will be more special and there will hopefully be a few fans down there cheering me on.
“I am really, really happy, and I am thankful for this opportunity because it has been a long journey for me. It is a massive milestone.”
Kaltak’s career has taken him around the Pacific with stints in Papua New Guinea (Hekari United), the Solomon Islands (Solomon Warriors), Fiji (Lautoka) and his native Vanuatu (Amicale and Erakor Golden Star). But it is in New Zealand where he built a reputation as an athletic and reliable centre-back during impressive spells at Tasman United and, most significantly, at Auckland City.
After four standout years in Auckland, Kaltak headed to Gosford to trial with the Mariners during the 2022 pre-season after a recommendation from Vanuatu Football Federation’s technical advisor Joshua Smith. But even then, it appeared the chance may have slipped away again, after an injury curtailed his initial trial period.
However, Kaltak had done enough to impress Mariners head coach Nick Montgomery. After a brief stint at Adelaide’s FK Beograd, he was eventually signed as an injury replacement for Brazilian forward Moresche last month.
“The injury wasn’t really bad, but I did think that’s it, my small chance that I had, it is gone,” admits Kaltak.
“But for the two weeks I had been with them I displayed something, and the coach really likes me.”
It has not only been a long wait for Kaltak to get his chance in the A-League but also for the nation and region he represents.
He will become the first ni-Vanuatu player to play in Australia’s premier football competition since Mitch Cooper featured for the Newcastle Jets v Perth Glory back in March 2016. Kaltak is not only flying the flag for Vanuatu but the region. While he is now teammates with Melbourne-born Daniel Hall, who has signalled his intentions to play international football for Fiji, the last Pacific Island born A-League player is Fiji’s Roy Krishna in 2019.
Kaltak met Krishna during March’s Oceania Qualifiers for this year’s FIFA World Cup in Qatar and speaks of being “inspired” by the Bula Boys legend.
He now hopes to have the same impact on the next generation of Pacific-based footballers.
“Everyone is buzzing to have another Pacific Islander in the A-League and this is what keeps me and Roy going,” Kaltak explained.
“The same thing, trying to inspire others. He inspired me and I look up to him. That is why my aim was always to try and get a professional contract with any team around the world but I did not expect it to be the A-League.
“It is now for me to inspire the other kids. If I can reach this level, there is nothing to stop them or be a stumbling block for them.”
Kaltak turned 29 last month and freely admits that is later than usual to be making a first foray into the professional game. Despite his lack of experience at this level, he is actually one of the oldest players on the Mariners roster. He even calls the club’s exciting teenage talent Garang Kuol, who will join English Premier League side Newcastle United in January, his “kid”.
While Kuol’s ascent has been rapid, Kaltak’s has been anything but and he has sage advice for any budding young footballers in the OFC region who have dreams of following his footsteps into the professional game.
“It does not happen overnight,” Kaltak explained.
“It takes months and sometimes years. You just have to be positive and do simple things every day and keep training. A small chance that you have or a small moment in the field in the game it can change your life.
“It happened for me, and it can happen for anyone.”
Brian Kaltak is set to make his debut for Central Coast Mariners in their upcoming A-League clash with Wellington Phoenix on Sunday, October 16 at 3.00pm NZT.