Shane Sakael: the hard choices of a footballer in Papua New Guinea

Football is about passion; many children’s dream is to become a professional football player. The game is played in every corner of the planet, in many different languages, cultures and realities. The game moves millions of people, millions of wishes and dreams – tough decisions are part of the game, but also part of life.

Shane Sakael, a 27-year-old central defender who most recently played for Papua New Guinea’s top club Hekari United, knows exactly what a tough decision is. Sakael has what it takes to be one of his country’s best teams, but he is not in the game at the moment; the reason is a little hard to believe for football fans who are used to European or American scenarios, but unfortunately are very common in Oceania – Sakael himself explains: “Football is okay but not a lifetime job in PNG. In other countries, yes football is a lifetime job. That’s the reason why I choose to teach“.

Sakael in action for Hekari United

The good player and very technically skilled Shane Sakael decided not to continue with Hekari United to travel to Lorengau, where he is actually a sports teacher. “I did not want my employer, the teaching services commission, to terminate my service as a teacher. I told my club managers to find a school in Port Moresby so I can teach and play at the same time, but I do not know why things could not work that way. Therefore I decided to stop and teach,” explains Sakael.

The defender had a fantastic season in 2019; not only helped Hekari to reach the grand final of PNG National Soccer League, but as well represented Papua New Guinea in the Pacific Games held in Samoa: “It was awesome. At first I thought it would be tough because of the club level, the seniority and the experiences that most players had. However, I have learnt a lot from the club, the managers, coaches and the players. I am satisfied with my football carreer. It was a dream come true for me to play for Hekari and also to play for Kapuls, representing my country in Pacific Games last year,” explained Sakael about his fantastic season.

Sakael in Samoa during 2019 Pacific Games

I miss football so much,” says Sakael, “I do not know how I can get back to the game. If a club can secure a teaching position for me, then it would be an opportunity to be back in the pitch – playing and working,” completes the player. The defender also reveals the current situation for players in Papua New Guinea: “In other countries it may work, I can only focus on football in other country, but not Papua New Guinea. It happens because the clubs can not afford to look after players during breaks or rather off seasons“.

Sakael’s talent brought him into the Papua New Guinea national team; it is certainly a waste to see such a player off the field in the current season of the PNG National Soccer League. The player would like to return, but the difficult financial situation offered by the country’s clubs is causing many players to choose a career other than football. Sakael is a sad example of probably the biggest problem of football in his country – a call for change is necessary for the sake of the beautiful game in the beautiful Papua New Guinea.

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