Christian Karembeu, FIFA World Cup 1998 winner with France, was a welcome guest at Te Kahu o Kiwa this week. The New Caledonian native was in Auckland as part of UEFA Assist’s U15 Boys Youth Development tournament, held at the Home Of Football’s pitches.

Karembeu is passionate about the development of youth football in the region, and expressed that in a sit down interview for OFC Learn.

“Kids these days grow up fast,” he said.

“A tournament like this can give them extra adremaline and experience, not just for them but for their coaches too. For them to think, ah we have done this one way, can we do it better? Also to connect with the world. This time we are here, next time we might be in Malta, Switzerland, who knows? We want to be part of the world of football.”

The U15 tournament includes teams from Fiji, Solomon Islands, Tahiti, Tonga and Cook Islands, as well a side from Lichtenstein. It is believed to be the first ever side from the small European nation to play in New Zealand.

The tournament has been put on with the very generous help of UEFA Assist, of which Karembeu is an ambassador. Karembeu has his eyes on another tournament later on this year, as well:

“I am very proud that we will have the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023. The impact is going to be phenomenal. I think that again, it is going to be a learning process for everyone in the region. How to host a beautiful event, manage these kind of venues – it’s great for our youth to see we are capable of this.”

Karembeu was born in Lifou, New Caledonia. He played youth football for Nouméa-based FC Naitcha and at the age of 17, he moved to France on a scholarship to study and play football.

During his glittering club career Karembeu played for Nantes (1990–95), Sampdoria (1995–97), Real Madrid (1997–2000), Middlesbrough (2000–01), Olympiacos (2001–04), Servette Genève (2004–05) and Bastia (2005–06). With Real Madrid, he won the Champions League in 1998 and 2000.

However, he is best known for holding aloft the greatest prize of all, being part of the World Cup winning French side in 1998. Karembeu also tasted international glory for France at Euro 2000. He is optimistic that football events on that scale can ride the wave created by the Women’s World Cup:

“Tomorrow, maybe we can have other tournaments here. This is the way to think, and I am very positive about the pro league in this region in the next few years.”