Introducing Oceania’s Eleven. Throughout 2018 we will be tracking 11 promising footballers who we believe will have a breakout season in Oceania and beyond.
For the past two years Papua New Guinean football has been on the cusp of a major breakthrough.
Traditionally one of the stronger sides in Oceania, they are the only one outside of New Zealand to boast an Oceania Champions League winner in Hekari United.
However, a split between the official federation and the breakaway FFPNG amid accusations over vote tampering in the FA elections led to many players being excluded from the league and national team.
Last season the league fell into disarray after the finals playoffs were cancelled and this season only two of the three matches kicked off after negotiations over the use of a stadium fell through.
Despite having only seven teams and disappointing performances in international fixtures, Papua New Guinea does have a couple of glimmers of hope.
One of those is Barty Kerobin, the 16-year-old striker who scored eight goals in eight games last season and has kicked off this Papua New Guinea National Soccer League season with a goal for Besta PNG United, the Papua New Guinea international development squad.
The second is further down the line. And he is about to become the first ever Papua New Guinea player to play professional football in Europe.
Who is David Browne?
David Browne was just 15 when he moved to New Zealand on a football scholarship. Despite setbacks in his personal life – his father died shortly before his move – he excelled immediately.
Given a chance with Auckland City he became an Oceania Champions League winner at just 16 and played in the World Club Cup.
A lightweight forward with an eye for goal, Browne was even singled out as the big talent in New Zealand football by the New Zealand Herald in 2015.
It said: “This twinkle-toed 19-year-old striker looks about 50kg soaking wet, but boy can he play.
“His hat-trick against Waitakere in the ASB Premiership semifinal showcased his full range of talent, and he is always the most exciting player on the pitch.”
By that point he had already won the Champions League twice and the ASB Premiership once. He’d also been named Auckland’s young player of the year and was the club’s joint top scorer in 2014/15.
It was inevitable that, after three years and ten goals in 33 games for Auckland he would be moving to bigger things. That came in the form of PEC Zwolle in the Netherlands – now the home of New Zealand international Ryan Thomas.
Browne never played for Zwolle but secured a move to fellow Dutch side Groningen. He scored his first goal for the reserves in October 2016 and had his contract extended until June 2018.
Since then he has come close to becoming Papua New Guinea’s first ever professional footballer in Europe.
In December 217 Browne was named on the substitute’s bench for a first team game against Sparta Rotterdam. Despite a 4-0 win, he never came off the bench.
However, with the Eredivisie set to kick off again after a winter break it seems only a matter of time until the talented 22-year-old makes history.
Promisingly, Groningen used Browne for 45 minutes in a friendly against Club Brugge alongside the first team squad. Despite a 3-1 defeat it was an audition for the attacker and one which could signal a move towards minutes on the pitch.
Browne has scored goals wherever he has gone and his ability to create goals means he can play as a second striker or deeper in midfield.
Either way he is set to be a key player for Papua New Guinea internationally too.
On playing for the national side he says: ” I feel Papua New Guinean so I am Papua New Guinean. It’s in my heart to play for this country and I’m glad to be back to play.”
The entirety of Oceania, and Papua New Guinea in particular, will be waiting with baited breath for his debut. 2018 could be the biggest year yet for one of Oceania’s biggest talents.