When New Caledonia take the field later this year at the FIFA U-17 World Cup, it will mark the latest of several such milestones for Oceania football in recent years. Tahiti and Papua New Guinea have hosted maiden FIFA tournaments in the past couple of years, while just last month Vanuatu made their bow at the FIFA U-20 World Cup.
New Caledonia, meanwhile, have been forced to sit patiently on the sidelines awaiting their turn. This despite boasting a football history going back a century; far longer than most of their Pacific neighbours.
All corners of the Francophone nation will undoubtedly be following the action from India intently. However, that applies to one man in particular; Georges Wadenges. A well-known name within New Caledonia’s football fraternity, Wadenges reluctantly hung up the boots two years ago following a distinguished career that included international football – both on grass and sand – and wearing the colours of local heavy-hitters AS Magenta.
The name Wadenges is now once again in the international arena. George’s son Cameron may only be 16, but after shining for the national team at the recent OFC U-17 Championship, he is set to step onto the world stage. And Wadenges is far from the only family name that secured second spot in the recent U-17 qualifying tournament. Paul Gope-Fenepej also featured prominently, with cousin Georges well-known for his exploits with the senior team, while uncle John was once on the books of Nantes in France.
As for Wadenges senior, he couldn’t be prouder. “The FIFA World (U-17) Cup is a massive and marvellous competition,” he said. “For his (Cameron’s) family, his parents, uncles, cousins, everyone – it’s an enormously proud moment to see Cameron going to the World Cup.
“Our U-17 will be rubbing up against the teams that they watch on TV, of course it’s youth, but it’s without doubt the next generation of the world’s elite.
“A son is the pride of any father. The Cagous shirt, it’s a second skin and to see him in these colours makes me even more proud.”
Like father, like son
The similarities don’t end with the surname. Cameron, like his dad, is a central defender. They also have a similar character and the same playing style. It is easy to see who Cameron’s influence was growing up.
“My dad, for me, was a complete defender,” Cameron said. “He has a great passing game, long and short, and the way he plays with his head is irreproachable. It’s maybe that which made him special.”
“It (central defence) is a difficult position. It demands a huge amount of concentration and consistency of performance.”
The U-17 World Cup will commence in early October, leaving Georges with plenty of time to pass on pointers to his footballing pride and joy. All of a sudden, the carefree days of junior football are a distant memory.
“To see him following in my footsteps was quite funny to start with, in the U-12, but now it’s become serious and I wish him success,” Georges said. “I’m letting him work and progress in the clubs, like in the national team, with his coaches and team-mates.”