Raphael Le’ai: the impressing profile of a 16-year-old star

Stars come and go in football. Every year many great footballers retire and many other young players begin to shine in the world. Some of them call the world’s attention very early while it takes some time to other ones. And one of these rising stars comes from Solomon Islands: Raphael Le’ai.

He started to get known back in 2017 when he scored 34 goals in six matches to help his country to clinch the title of the first ever edition of the OFC Youth Futsal Tournament. He was just 14 years old and he was the top scorer and the MVP of this Under-18 tournament.

The youngster kept on showing his talent in futsal in the upcoming year when he travelled to Argentina to represent his country in the 2018 Summer Youth Olympics. Le’ai finished the tournament with seven goals scored in four matches. His outstanding performances called the attention of some Argentinian clubs like Godoy Cruz. However he was not able to join the team beacuse he was underaged so the contract should be based on a scholarship or something similar and it did not happen.

Le’ai (in the air) showed his talent in the 2018 Summer Youth Olympics in Argentina

The year of 2018 was really special to him. With just fifteen years old he led Solomon Islands in the OFC U-16 Championship by scoring eight goals and taking his team to the final of the tournament. Unfortunately they lost to New Zealand in the shootout but it was enough to qualify Solomon Islands for the 2019 FIFA U-17 World Cup for the first time ever. Rapha was the MVP and the top scorer of this tournament. You can check his highlights in this tournament by clicking here.

Le’ai with the MVP and Golden Boot awards of 2018 OFC U-16 Championship

It was also in 2018 when he started to have some opportunities at senior level in 11-a-side football as he represented Marist FC in the 2018 Telekom S-League, the main football league in Solomon Islands. He finished the tournament with four goals scored in six matches, helping his team to finish in the sixth position. His talent called the attention of the only fully-professional team from Oceania: Wellington Phoenix.

Rapha has received an opportunity to study in New Zealand alongside with his countrymen Leon Kofana as both joined Scots College in 2019. During that time they were linked to the Wellington Phoenix Academy but they were not able to represent the Academy because they were underaged.

However it did not prevent him to show his goods in the country as he kept scoring lots of goals for his college as he was the top scorer of 2019 Lotto Premier Tournament, a football tournament organized by New Zealand Secondary Schools Boys’ Football.

Left: Le’ai with his Golden Boot Trophy – Right: Le’ai wearing Wellington Phoenix uniform in a training session

The year of 2019 also reserved more to him. Rapha travelled to South America for the second straight year to represent his country in the 2019 FIFA U-17 World Cup in Brazil. Despite not scoring in the tournament, he impressed with his skills and intelligence one more time in the biggest stage he has ever been. Oceania Football Center staff had the opportunity to watch him in loco in the match against Mexico and we were also very impressed with him.

Raphael (number 10) in the Solomon Islands’ starting eleven against Italy in the 2019 FIFA U-17 World Cup. Source: FIFA Media

After the World Cup the rising star came back to Solomon Islands to represent Henderson Eels in the 2019-20 Telekom S-League. He finished the tournament with 24 goals scored in seven matches helping Eels to finish in the second position with a secured berth in the 2020 OFC Champions League.

The present year has been very good for him. He was part of Henderson Eels’ squad for Champions League and he scored a beautiful goal in his official debut in the most important club competition from Oceania. His good performances helped the Eels to book a spot in the knockout stage.

Le’ai celebrating his first ever goal in the OFC Champions League. Source: OFC Media

In March he signed a two-year contract with Basi Futbol, a football agency that provides him full advisory. This agency took him and Leon Kofana to Australia for trials with Melbourne Victory youth squads. Rapha impressed once again but he is just sixteen and could not sign any contract.

It was also announced that Le’ai is in the Solomon Islands 31-men provisional squad for OFC Nations Cup that is originally scheduled to take place in June. He is the youngest player in the list.

Le’ai (right) during his trials with Melbourne Victory. Source: Basi Futbol Media

Raphael is surely a talent that must be spotted by big clubs because of his talent and his background as a young footballer. The sixteen-year-old forward can be easily the next breakthrough from Oceania overseas.

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