Age has stopped Raphael Lea’i from going to Godoy Cruz, but the talented 15-year-old could end up in New Zealand or Australia.
A few weeks ago, Raphael Lea’i was approached by Argentine Superliga club Godoy Cruz for a week’s trial. Now that move has fallen through, because if there was a contract offer at the end it wouldn’t include any form of education, says Solomon Islands Technical Director Felipe Vega-Arango.
“Under FIFA regulations you can not do something like that with an underage player. In Raphael’s case he is 15-years-old and it has to be an offer through education, for example, a scholarship,” Vega-Arango tells Radio Australia.
Just such an offer is apparently on the table from New Zealand if Vega-Arango is to be believed.
“Right now there is an offer from Scots College [in Wellington]. They are offering him a scholarship and to be able to play in the school league. To be honest with you, if he will play professional later, it will happen, but right now at this stage, an education is the most important. An opportunity like that is wonderful for anybody.”
So, the deal in Argentina looks dead because even if Lea’i did enough to secure a contract, Godoy Cruz couldn’t have offered him one until he was 18.
“He can come and train, but no one can offer him anything until he is 18. Because he is underage, you are breaking very strict regulations. He is 15. He has to go to school,” Vega-Arango reiterates.
Other professional clubs interested
However, the Spaniard reveals that professional clubs are still interested in Lea’i and Godoy Cruz will likely keep an eye on him too.
“They have to move on because they are professional teams, but if they know you will continue to play, they will keep track of your games, maybe send a scout. I know they will think about him, what happens in the future I don’t know. A few more teams have contacted us but the answer is the same to all of them.”
One of them is Australian A-League side Brisbane Roar, who had PNG’s Emmanuel Simongi on trial a year ago. They are interested, but it has to be an offer with an education.
“They wanted to do a trial as well, but it has to be an offer through education. The scholarship in New Zealand is a very good one and I think he should be taking that. If they [Brisbane Roar] are serious about somebody they should offer something related to education. Like, say ‘if you come to us you train with us two times a week, but you play for our school team’,” Vega-Arango says.
“He’s 15 years old, so speaking so much of the prospect of a 15-year-old…. He might be good in Oceania, but if he plays in the Under-16 teams in England or Spain maybe he does not touch a ball.
“Let him go to school and then we’ll see what happens with football. If something has to happen it will happen,” concludes SIFF’s Technical Director.