Raphael Lea’i speaks about his first professional experience and his expectations in European football

Since turning into the first ever Solomon Islands’ player to sign a full-pro contract in Europe, Raphael Lea’i has made the headlines of many media outlets not only in his country but also around the world. But since then, the 19-year-old has not spoken to media regarding his new adventure since leaving Henderson Eels for a professional contract with Velež Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s top-tier league. Lea’i, that recently made his professional debut, spoke Velež Mostar’s media and also to local website’s news outlets.

Lea’i during his interview with Velež media – Velež TV

During his interview to the club media, the young striker told he was very happy to finally have made it to professional football. He also mentioned he is thankful to the warm welcome had by the local fans.

In an interview with Anadolu Agency, the Solomon Islands’ football star also give some of his impressions: “Many people in the Solomon Islands follow and support ‘Velež’ today. I play here now and they feel my club. I want to play my best and make the fans happy. I will do my best to make them happy and to see smiles on their faces. I’m really happy“, said Raphael. The striker also believes his arrival in European football can turn into a pathway for more players from the Pacific to make it to professional football: “I believe that my arrival here can open doors for many players from my country. Many young people will have the opportunity to see what I’m doing there and think that I’m paving the way for them too. Maybe someone will ask about those young men if I do well in Europe. They will surely follow my development and try to come,” mentioned Lea’i.

Nedim Jusufbegović, the head coach of Velež also spoke about the player to the media: “Rafa came to us for a trial. It was proposed by a member of our professional staff, Adnan Dizdarević. He said there was an interesting guy who would like to come. He is a representative of his country. Young, potent, fast… Those always become interesting, especially when it comes to speed, because we are genetically deficient in that. He came, he tried to stay even when it didn’t look the best. He showed will, a huge desire for work, for progress. The potential left its mark, it was recorded. We reacted to our proposal and he stayed. Of course, this is not a finished player from whom the fans can expect something spectacular. It is about a potential that is 19 years old and for which we hope that with quality work and maximum engagement of all of us, the people in the club, the coaches, that potential will develop to a certain point where we can do it. And that he will continue his path further, where he can develop better and grow into a serious player, which we hope and believe he will become“, said Jusufbegović.

Lea’i in a training session – Anadolija

Lea’i had played around 15 minutes in his debut – you can watch all his action by clicking here – and he is going to have another chance to prove himself this Sunday (02nd April) as Velež Mostar takes on Sloga Doboj in the m:te Premier League.


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