Most football players share a similar dream, no matter what age, height, weight or status.
And what is it you might ask?
To play for your country.
The opportunity to taste the glory of stepping out onto the field for your national team, fighting with the crest of your country directly over your heart, to play with the patronage of your ancestors at your back.
But with only the best able to penetrate the threshold that is the elite status of the national team, the reality of doing so is unlikely for the majority no matter what corner of the globe you are from.
But not for Willie Sauiluma.
Born in Samoa, Sauiluma has lived in Australia for 16 years and has represented his birth nation since he was 14.
In the first edition of Youth Academy, we caught up with the Goulburn Valley Suns’ under-20 youngster to learn about what most young players in the Goulburn Valley only dream of doing.
After a family connection provided Sauiluma an in with Samoa’s national football establishment, he has taken every opportunity afforded to him.
Having captained his country’s under-19 side and guided the team through many international tournaments, he is one of his nation’s most trusted future stars.
Youth Academy: How did you get introduced to the Samoan national team?
Willie Sauiluma: It was just from family really. Some family that I have been playing soccer with for a while, their son knows the association back in Samoa. They introduced me to the CEO and then he called me to join them on their next tour.
That was back in 2013-14, I was 14, but I played for the under-18s. It was a good experience being around those type of players. I got the captain’s armband the following year, as I was the most experienced player out of all the boys.
YA: How much experience have you had playing for your country?
WS: Yeah, quite a lot, the different coaches that have come through have been good and they have given me all sorts of tips.
That’s how I learned how to take free kicks; surprisingly it was from the goalkeeper coach, he taught me how to kick.
YA: Where do you train and play your games?
WS: All our training camps are back home in Samoa, but the CEO arranges where the games will be held with the OFC (Oceania Football Confederation). The first year was in Samoa, but the next year was in Tahiti and all those sorts of places. It’s not always going to be held in the same island.
YA: What’s the highest level of competition you have played for Samoa?
WS: Oh, it would have to be under-19s, but this year will under-20s. The hardest games to play are always the qualifying stages (for major tournaments). New Zealand would have to be the best team by far, their whole team is really good.
YA: How do you prepare for your important international games?
WS: We have three-month training camps with the team, I think they are going to cut it down though because three months over there is deadly, especially for us overseas boys.
The weather playing there is so bad. The first two months is just fitness, we don’t even touch a ball, and we have to train three times a day. We train at 5am, again at around 12pm and then at 8pm.
We aren’t allowed to go on our phones, we have to go to sleep on time and we are split into groups to do the chores like making food. Not being on social media is so hard.
YA: What has been your favourite moment in a Samoa jersey?
WS: Winning the qualifiers last year against Cook Islands, I scored the winning goal, it’s on YouTube if you want to check it out.
Rising through the ranks
Sauiluma starred for Shepparton South last season, stepping down to the Bendigo Amateur Soccer League after plying his trade with the Suns’ juniors.
But wanting to push himself and to once again taste the higher level, the 18-year-old is back with the Orangemen, playing for Stuart Vance’s under-20 side.
YA: How long have you lived in Shepparton?
WS: I moved to Australia when I was three, I stayed in Melbourne for a bit before I came to Shepp. I started off playing juniors at SJSA (Shepparton Junior Soccer Association), then I moved to Shepparton for a year, and then to the Suns. I played at South last year and moved back to Suns this year.
YA: What brought you back to the Suns?
WS: I felt myself go down a bit, so I wanted to play my best at the highest level. I wanted to see if I could go further than playing locally. At the start of the season it was a bit tough, I had to get back to that quality of playing.
YA: What sort of role are you playing in the 20s this year? And what are your expectations for the season?
WS: I’m playing left wing back, for that position you have to be fit, so I’m just trying to work on that. I try running, doing laps without the ball in my own time. As well as that I do leg day — that is all that matters.
We have a really good squad, we are dominating, but it’s just a few minor errors that we need to fix.
Tiki-taka (quick-fire questions)
YA: Who are your footballing idols?
WS: Tim Cahill. He’s the same nationality as me, so I have been looking up to him ever since I was little, and I’ve always wanted to become what he was.
YA: Who have been some of the coaches in the local area who have influenced you?
WS: Pat Kielty, he’s been there since day one; a really good coach. Reno Lia as well, he’s good too.
YA: Have you had any connections with (fellow Samoan national) Frank Mariner?
WS: I was talking to him about playing overseas with Samoa this year and he said he wasn’t going to play for the national team. It’s a shame, but I think he has other commitments.
YA: Would your national age group team beat the Suns?
WS: Yeah probably, just because we train and play in that type of weather all the time and when we come over here we will be more fresh. Over there it’s all about fitness, you have to pace yourself.
Youth Academy is an ongoing investigation into the future of Goulburn Valley’s footballing wonderkids. Each week we will profile an upcoming talent who has captured the attention of the local footballing scene.
Liam's last word:
After playing with Willie for a short period of time, it is clear the Samoan is one to watch.
Off the pitch he is humble and respectful, but on the pitch he is dynamic, powerful and constantly working.
His left foot should be registered as a lethal weapon.