|Fifa Club World Cup|
|When: 11-21 December Where: Qatar|
|Coverage: Every game streamed live on BBC Sport website & iPlayer|
Hunting with tribes, playing beach soccer, managing a boarding school and playing in the Club World Cup – that is the life of Hienghene Sport captain Bertrand Kai.
His story is indicative of a club who play in a 1,800-capacity stadium and were only formed in 1997 in the Pacific Island French territory of New Caledonia – around 900 miles off the east coast of Australia – with a population of fewer than 300,000.
They are only the second Oceania side not from Australia or New Zealand to take part in the competition and are two wins away from setting up a potential meeting with European champions Liverpool in Qatar.
If they beat Qatari side Al-Sadd on Wednesday and then Mexican club Monterrey on Saturday, a squad whose players have only eight Wikipedia pages between them could be taking on the Premier League leaders.
“It’s a proud moment for our country. We have players who come from all four corners of the country – from the north islands to the south – it does not matter what the ethnicity is,” head coach Felix Tagawa told BBC Sport.
“This club is magic when it comes to the team spirit and we try to be perfectionists.”
Tribes, teachers and the school canteen
Hienghene skipper Kai is one of their most high-profile players and picked up the Golden Ball on the way to their success in the Oceania Football Confederation Champions League.
He is only the second player born in New Caledonia to be crowned Oceania Player of the Year, following in the footsteps of France World Cup winner Christian Karembeu.
But football does not take up all of Kai’s time, despite the team training five days a week and playing matches every Saturday.
The 36-year-old has also been a boarding school manager since 2013, is a father of two and is from the indigenous Kanak community, which represents around 39% of the population.
“I take care of the work that goes on at the boarding school and everything related to the school canteen,” he said in an interview earlier his year. “All that is food, it is me who makes the orders, the menus, the hygiene and everything.
“I grew up in the tribe. We grow all the time, we are always in the fields, fishing or hunting.”
The striker, easily recognisable with his long dreadlocks and dark beard, is one of several members of the team who have jobs in the “private sector,” says head coach Tagawa.
“We have an administrator in the civil service, a building engineer and trainee teachers,” he said. “We have to be happy with what we are and what we have because we’re not deprived, it’s what gives us strength to not complain.
“We take it as a positive and work in the present to build our future. The jobs we do help us in these international competitions.”
Family, Harry Maguire and beach soccer
Kai is joined in the squad by his cousin Anthony. But they are not the only family members. Brothers Roy and Miguel Kayara also play in the team.
Roy, 29, was on trial at Sheffield United before the 2013-14 season, taking part in three friendly games during a tour of Scotland, playing in the same side as England and Manchester United defender Harry Maguire.
But being part of the same family isn’t the only thing that brings Hienghene Sport’s players together. Six of the squad are also team-mates in the New Caledonia beach soccer team.
That includes their goalkeeper Rocky Nyikeine, who picked up the Golden Glove in the 2019 OFC Champions League, and Amy Antoine Roine, who scored the winning goal in the final as a substitute – a stunning effort from his own half which lobbed the Magenta keeper.
And to bring it all together, the beach soccer team’s coach is none other than Hienghene boss Tagawa.
“Beach soccer is still football but on a smaller scale and is played differently. It helps the range of a footballer in terms of his senses, the understanding of seeing things quickly, playing fast and the technical application, which improves movement,” said Tagawa.
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“For me football ‘reduced’ helps the players because it uses the complete skills. Working barefoot in the sand is ideal for building strength in the ankles and helps with shooting because it makes the area of contact on the foot harder.”
‘This club is magic for team spirit’
When Roine scored in the OFC Champions League final the players, including the goalkeeper, ran the length of the pitch to join him before jumping on top of each other and dancing on the touchline.
The Stade Numa Daly – home of the New Caledonia national team with a 16,000-seat capacity – roared in celebration too.
“I looked at the stand opposite me at one point in the match and I was really overwhelmed. It’s really quite beautiful to see so many people” Tagawa told Fifa’s official website.
That goal ensured their qualification for the Club World Cup which is considered by many back home as the greatest achievement by a team from the Melanesian nation.
“There is no selfishness whatsoever but only sharing and a collective spirit, it’s the mantra of the fans,” said Tagawa.
“When you have that within the club it results in prestige and pride for the country.”
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