Reginald Davani is one of the greatest footballers ever from Papua New Guinea. Born in Port Moresby, he played in Australia for many years which gave him a lot of experience to keep his life linked to football after his retirement as a player. Currently working as Technical Development Manager in Football Queensland, the governing body for association football and futsal in Queensland (Australia), Davani made history representing his country. He is the Papua New Guinea National Team’s all time top scorer with fifteen goals scored in 23 matches and he was also Flemming Serritslev’s assistant coach in the Kapuls historical campaign in the 2016 OFC Nations Cup.
Oceania Football Center had the opportunity to talk to him about his career as a footballer and manager. You can check the full and exclusive interview below:
You went very young to Australian football. How was this process? How important it was for your footballer career? Do you see this as a good path for development for the current young generation of footballers in Papua New Guinea?
I went to Australia when I was 14 years old. I realized then that I could seriously pursue a career in football after seeing the different opportunities available to further develop. It came at critical stage of my development. Like most kids in Papua New Guinea (PNG) I played every sport I could, but football was always something I had the passion for – it challenged me the most.
Football in Australia put me in a structured environment to accelerate my talent and development. I think most Papua New Guinean kids are like this, they are naturally gifted players and athletes, but at some point, ideally early in their development pathway, that raw talent needs to be nurtured in the right environment, so players understand the game better and pick up good habits.
If Papua New Guinea can create more structured environments and pathways around the country for young players, it will be able to nurture and develop talent in the same way other advanced football nations can.
You are the top goalscorer for the Papua New Guinea National Football Team (Kapuls) and one of the role models for the young Papua New Guinean footballers. How important this milestone is for you? What advices would you give to the young generation?
To be honest, the top goal scorer title is not important for me. I’m happy to have just scored one goal for my country and it’s nice to be a part of Papua New Guinean football history. But I have no doubt it will be someone else’s name next to it very soon, which will be pleasing.
Being a role model is important. My advice for young players is to just enjoy the game and fall in love with it. Have big dreams. You never know how far it can take you. If football is what you want to do, then work hard and go for it. My passion for the game is what continues to drive me today as it did as a boy. – “You have to be obsessed… I was obsessed to be the best” – Steven Gerrard
Do you see differences from the football played in your footballer days in comparison to now in Oceania level? If yes, could you list some of them?
Yes, I think these days in Oceania the players have more exposure to experience the game at various levels. The O-league and National Soccer League (NSL) in Papua New Guinea are great concepts because it gives opportunities to players to play against the very best outside of their own city or country
At National team level, apart from New Zealand, other Oceania teams are now playing foreign opposition from the AFC region and beyond. When I was assistant coach for the Kapuls, we played a top football nation like Iran – a top 30 ranked nation. In my time as a player, that was unheard of! This is invaluable football experience and knowledge gained for coaches, teams and players. You can’t get that in your own region.
Also, today social media, exposure to watching games online, access to international football stars online, its more accessible than before. But I think more needs to be done within the various countries so that rural players and zones have access to these different opportunities also.
You have plenty of experience of playing and coaching in different countries. Do you see much difference in the technical, fitness and tactical approach’s in comparison to Papua New Guinea?
Yes, I do. I have been fortunate enough to experience and see the different approaches in team and player preparations. Translating key information in a manner that’s both clear for players to digest, and then seeing it impact immediately on a players’ performance, is a critical skill required at the elite level and one which I am working hard on developing every day.
In Australia and New Zealand, there is a strong push with Sports science and tactical analysis using software like Hudl, smartabase, wi-scout, session planner and more. Australia’s curriculum, is more process-driven, designed around educating and delivering a particular type of coaching process. I’ve also worked in environments where it’s less process-driven and an expectation that the players already having a level of understanding in football knowledge/education.
In PNG, the Coach Development framework needs to be seriously addressed. There are
some young talented Papua New Guinean coaches, but they work with limited resources and rely heavily on their own football experiences. Only a few have been exposed to a process. I started my senior coaching journey in similar fashion but was fortunate to have the international exposure as a player.
Globally, there is a strong push for coach development, and it should be no different in Papua New Guinea. There are a lot of coaches out there both at grassroots/community and National Soccer League level, that need the help and exposure to new practices around the world. The standard of coaching would improve immensely if there was an emphasis on this. The players would benefit more by receiving a higher level of coaching. It’s a real area of potential growth there and one which I think will have significant positive impact for football in the country.
All these experiences have been beneficial for me and I’ve been able to take different things from them to complement my own ideas to create my own personal coaching philosophy which I bring to all of my coaching and technical development work.
You have worked alongside the well-known coach Flemming Serritslev at Kapuls. How was this experience?
Flemming has extensive football knowledge and experience and was great for the Kapuls.
He knew how to get the best out of players. I saw a coach who didn’t complicate things with the players but was still able to implement his own playing style in a short space of time. A humble personality but there was authority about him also. The result of that was making the OFC Nation’s cup final in 2016 and almost winning it. I took a lot out of his approach and learnt a lot.
Currently the PNGFA is looking for a new head coach. Some experts and fans in the country mentioned you as one of the favorites to take charge of the spot. Do you intend to coach the national team, anything in the horizon?
Yes, it’s no secret that I would love to coach the national team one day. I played for my country for many years and I was the assistant coach in the last world cup campaign – our best campaign ever in our history. It would be a huge honor to take on the responsibility and continue the work that was achieved before. I’m not sure what the future holds but it’s a role I would love to take on one day. A position that I have a lot of respect for.
What is your evaluation of the setup of PNG National Soccer League, the NSL and PNGFA administration around the league and the importance of to have a well-structured national league in the country?
Having a National League is vital for the development and growth of the game in the country. This has to be the stage for Papua New Guinea’s top players talent and coaches to grow and develop. A strong National league will provide competitive national teams (for both men and women).
A major factor of the success of the Kapuls‘ Nations Cup success in 2016, was the exposure of a core group of players who started in the NSL back in 2006 and developed through both the NSL and playing abroad, culminating in 2016 – this has to continue for future generations. A pathway leading into the league needs to be a lot more structured and developed.
The League structure and administration of it needs to be reformed. The financial viability returns on investments for clubs and sponsors, the constant turnover of new teams and players and the consistency in the quality and standard of football all need to be considered if the NSL is to have any chance of reaching its potential.
Do you think the grassroots system of Papua New Guinea is working well – are the talents being scouted and receiving proper trainings, exposure and game time? While there is some good work being done, the grassroots system is not effective and is nowhere close to the level it needs to be for PNG to reach its potential as a football nation.
Finding the best players only happens by coincidence and not by any type of design or development programs. Football is played right across all 23 provinces in the country and mainly at a grassroots level, so Papua New Guinea needs to be more deliberate about its development programs for players and coaches. Like everywhere else in the world, there are major challenges, but this should be the highest priority for football in the country.
Establishing and implementing talent identification systems is key which are relevant to the circumstances there and tap into the school structures is vital, as is ensuring that a pathway exists to allow players from grassroots to transition into elite football successfully.
The most effective way to bring all these elements together is to develop a clear vision (long term) for the game in Papua New Guinea. One which recognizes the historical and cultural contexts of how the game has developed over the years but also acknowledges the huge untapped potential we have to reestablish ourselves as a powerhouse in the region and one day make the World Cup.
Story & Pics courtesy of Oceania Football Center