He may be just 17 years old but AS Lossi striker Raoul Wenisso has already matched up with the world’s best for his age group and is shouldering the responsibility of leading the line for his club in the OFC Champions League.
He’s no stranger to the big occasion having been part of New Caledonia’s run to the final of the OFC U-17 Championship – a campaign which earned Les Petits Cagous a place at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in India alongside Oceania champions New Zealand, thanks to OFC securing an additional qualification place for its men’s age-group events from last year.
Being part of the first New Caledonia team to qualify for a FIFA event – and the first OFC nation from outside New Zealand and Australia to qualify for a U-17 World Cup – was an eye-opening experience for Wenisso and his teammates but one he believes will hold them and the future of New Caledonian football in good stead.
“It’s a dream,” admits the teenager.
“I had never imagined I would be participating in a World Cup someday. It’s a huge pride for me. This great experience will help me in my football career.
“Discovering the professional world was a huge thing for us amateurs from New-Caledonia. I think this wonderful experience will help New Caledonia build for the future in order to reach a high level.”
“Knowing there were two qualifying spots for the World Cup was a boost for us during the qualifiers. I think that this change in the regulation is great, it gives the opportunity for teams other than New Zealand to participate in a World Cup. It gave us the opportunity to go to India and get some results.”
He admits to having second thoughts about competing in this season’s OFC Champions League, concerned that his elevation from the club’s U-17 team to the senior team might have come too fast.
In the end, he decided that the opportunity was too good to turn down and backed himself to be able to contribute to the Lossi cause.
“In the beginning I hesitated to come to Tahiti for the OFC Champions League with Lossi. My father wants me to improve slowly, step by step, playing with the youth teams before joining the first team.
“But I ended up accepting to make the trip because I knew this would be another great experience for me. Playing in the Champions League, at a high level, will help me become a better football player.”
He also credits a positional switch at age group level for making him a more well-rounded player.
A forward by preference, Wenisso was happy to slot into a fullback role during New Caledonia’s run to the final of the OFC U-17 Championship a role he stayed in throughout the World Cup finals including in the historic 1-1 draw against Asian powerhouse Japan.
“It was my U-17 coach Dominique Wacalie’s idea to play me there. He noticed I was powerful player. During our training camp in New-Zealand, in a friendly game, he decided I would play as a right back. He was satisfied with my performance and since then I remained at the back with U-17 national team.
“I enjoy playing in both positions, I like being multi-skilled. The most important thing is the team, so if the coach needs me to play as a defender, it’s not a problem, I can adapt.”
Despite a disappointing Lossi campaign in Papeete, Wenisso is hoping his club side can emulate the U-17s and grab a positive result to leave on a high.
“Our goal for the final match against Erakor is getting a positive result. We would like to leave the OFC Champions League on a good note just like we did in India.”