Words: Agustín Fernández
Thursday 18 August 2022
AUCKLAND, New Zealand - Auckland City FC veterans Angel Berlanga and Emiliano Tade reflect on what makes the Navy Blues tenth OFC Champions League triumph special.
Argentine journalist Agustin Fernandez has worked at close quarters with the team in 2022 and spent time with Berlanga and Tade to find out how the two Spanish speakers felt about the emotional achievement.
Any time fans talk about winning football titles, the conversation inspires heated debates about the achievement of global names such as Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos, Dani Alves or Andrés Iniesta.
And every fan knows those players compete at the top of the sport in the best competitions on the planet.
Despite the grandiosity, glitz and glamour of the Copa Libertadores or the UEFA Champions League, the OFC Champions League holds the same appeal in the heart of football fans in FIFA's smallest Confederation, Oceania.
Oceania, populated by just over 10 million people of various cultures, thousands of languages, islands and diverse history, is a hotbed of football, often forgotten about by a football world obsessed with celebrity and money.
For all of these factors, the OFC Champions League remains a special gem tucked away in the vast Pacific, no less passionate, no less important, to the people who live there, in the 11 countries that make its constituent parts.
August 17, 2022
Two players familiar to Auckland City FC fans made their own special piece of history after the club's recent tenth continental title.
Angel Berlanga became the player with the most continental titles to his name in world football while Emiliano Tade became the Argentinian player with the most continental titles.
In such a small setting as Oceania, the achievement requires correct context, nevertheless for purists and the lovers of football statistics, let's press forward with what is a fun exercise and surface the facts.
Let's begin at the very top of world football.
Lionel Messi has won 14 international titles - four UEFA Champions Leagues, three FIFA Club World Cups, three UEFA Super Cups with Barcelona and an Olympic gold medal, a Copa América, and a FIFA U-20 World Cup and one Finalissima with his beloved Argentina.
This is the romantic benchmark fans live for, a football God who has graced the world game, winning almost everything in his path.
It is here we unearth the work of Berlanga, and two of his former team-mates in Ivan Vicelich and Jacob Spoonley, who during their time with Auckland City FC have achieved something extra special of their own.
Vicelich has won the OFC Champions League nine times, seven as a player and twice as an assistant coach.
Goalkeeper Spoonley won seven OFC Champions League titles in a variety of capacities as a starter or reserve.
The stellar list of title winners around the world is staggering by comparison.
Left behind are players like Francisco Gento López (Spain) - 6 UEFA Champions League with Real Madrid -, Francisco Sá (Argentina) - 6 Copa Libertadores (4 with Independiente and 2 with Boca Juniors), Emiliano Tade – 6 OFC Champions League with Auckland City FC, Hossam Ashour (Egypt) – 6 CAF Champions League and Wael Gomaa (Egypt) – 6 CAF Champions League.
Lower down the list, we can find players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Paolo Maldini, Luka Modric, Alfredo Di Stéfano, Marcelo, Toni Kross, Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, among others, all of them with 5 UEFA European Cup or UEFA Champions League honours.
89’ | 3-0— Auckland City FC (@AucklandCity_FC) August 17, 2022
GOAL!!!, Emiliano Tade
It is a fun exercise to paint a remarkable picture - for while the OFC Champions League is small by comparison, the hard work, sacrifice and dedication to remain so consistent, over so many years, in a region where travel can take in thousands of kilometres - seems insane.
After the final Angel Berlanga spoke about what he feels after being crowned as a champion with the “Navy Blues”:
“I’m very happy to get the OFC Champions League title again. When the season started it was the main goal for us and seeing everyone celebrating makes me even happier.”
“Bringing the Cup back after 5 years makes me value it much more than before. Sometimes when you are winning every year you start to lose consciousness about how important and difficult things could be, but after many years without winning it we know how difficult is to get it.”
From an Argentine perspective, Tade also has powerful emotions about the victory.
The striker scored the last goal in the tournament for the “Navy Blues” and it just so happened it was the club's 100th goal of 2022.
It also gave Tade his sixth OFC Champions League winners medal and brought him level with Francisco Sá, the retired Argentinian player that won 6 Copa Libertadoress, his last win as far back as 1978 playing for Boca Juniors.
“Scoring the 100th goal of the team in 2022 in the final was like a fun fact. A few weeks ago I played my 200th match for Auckland City FC and, at the same time, it was the 500th official match of the club. It doesn’t mean anything special, but this type of “synchronization” is funny for me and add a bit of colour."
“Every title is different because you always live the tournaments in a different way. Personally, this one was special for me because too many things happened in the middle. We haven’t won the competition in a long time, I went to South Africa to have an international experience, then the tournament got cancelled in 2020 because of the pandemic and when you think about all those things it makes it more special.”
“Being the Argentine with the most continental titles in activity at club level is not something that I’ve been looking for in my career.
"It is not one of my aims and is not that important emotionally speaking. But it is nice to know these things because it gives me a perspective of what I’ve achieved in my career.
"However, while I don’t mean to underestimate our collective or even individual achievements, I am realistic enough to know that it is not the same to win 6 OFC Champions League titles than to win 6 Copa Libertadores or UEFA Champions League titles.”
As told to Argentine journalist Agustin Fernandez.
v Bay Olympic, Sat 1 April 2023, Kiwitea Street, KO: 3pm NZST