Raphael Lea’i talks media hype and career ambitions

Football in Oceania had a sit down with Solomon Islands youngster Raphael Lea’i during the FIFA Futsal World Cup.

Raphael Lea’i sat down with Football in Oceania during the FIFA Futsal World Cup 2021. (Photo: Ola Bjerkevoll)

Lea’i had to sit out the World Cup due to an arm injury, and he has just had surgery on it. Previously head coach Vinicius has said Lea’i will be out of commission for two months, which he confirms.

­“My arm is getting better and I’m feeling okay after the operation. Based on advice from the doctor I’ll need to rest for two to three months to get full recovery and after that I can play again,” Lea’i says.

“It’s a big, missed opportunity for me, since this World Cup was supposed to be a big stage for me to showcase my talent and who I am as a player.”

Nonetheless the 18-year-old is happy to be with his teammates in Lithuania. The World Cup ended with three losses, the last to Thailand Sunday night.

“The experience has really helped me as a player, even though I’m not playing. Being here with the team has been a good experience, and I’m looking forward to playing again once I’m fully recovered”.

Futsal vs grass

Lea’i, like so many of his country’s footballers have played a lot on both hard courts and grass fields. He believes the versatility that brings, can be a big help in his career.

“In futsal I can score in second with my pace and strength in shooting. But with the experience on a smaller sized court, I can translate that into football, and it will help me in football as well.”

He certainly seems to have kept his shooting skills up, as he scored 33 goals for Henderson Eels in the Telekom S-League in the Solomon Islands last season.

“The level in Solomon Islands is not like in Australia or other big football countries. But so far the experience with Henderson Eels has been very good and it’s helping me develop my football career as well.”

Ignoring the hype

Lea’i first broke onto the international stage with stellar performances in the futsal of the Youth Olympics and the OFC U16 Championship in 2018 in the eleven-a-side game. That garnered a lot of media attention, and hyped him as one of the biggest talents to come out of the region in a long time.

The main man himself, claims he doesn’t pay attention to any of that.

“I don’t focus on the hype, especially what people say online or in the media. It’s up to them to hype the news and stuff. I know I’m talented and will keep working hard to improve myself as a player. I’ll continue to work hard and seek God’s help as I continue to progress through my career,” Lea’i says.

Following the breakout performances Lea’i got offered a trial with Argentine side Godoy Cruz, but was unable to go, due to being underage.

“It was a sad moment for me, that I couldn’t go on trial as I was a minor. One of the requirements was that my parents had to travel with me to the trial in Argentina, but that couldn’t happen. I will continue to work hard and look for other opportunities that come along.”

Dreaming of Europe

And one of those opportunities came earlier this year, when Lea’i and fellow U16 Championship standout Leon Kofana, trialled with Melbourne Victory in Australia.

He got good feedback from them but due to the Corona-virus pandemic it is hard for the youngster to travel there and stay with the club. Age was also a problem, as the youngster just turned 18 earlier this month.

Lea’i doesn’t let his head drop though.

“They gave me positive feedback from the trial, and it’s just a matter of time to see what’s next for me.”

“One of my goals is to one day play in one of Europe’s premier leagues in football. I hope that dream will come through one day.”

Author: Ola Bjerkevoll

A passion for everything football and especially in Oceania. Owner of Football in Oceania.

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