Jean-Philippe Saiko with his partner Deborah Ixeko who are looking forward to their new life in Nelson. Photo: Jonty Dine.

New Caledonian star set to shine for Tasman United


Football is a universal language.

So, despite speaking no English, Tasman United head coach Jess Ibrom had no hesitation in signing New Caledonian international Jean-Philippe Saiko.

The 29-year-old is a goal scoring sensation for his home country and has enjoyed a successful seven-year stint in France.

Jean-Phillippe has netted nine international goals and was the top scorer in the New Caledonian League in 2013 with 25, a record that still stands.

But the veteran was looking for a new challenge and when the call came to move to New Zealand he jumped at the chance.

The striker didn’t have long to find his feet in the region, having arrived on Thursday evening, had his first training on Friday and a pre-season game on Saturday.

However, the whirlwind introduction hasn’t hampered him as Jean-Phillippe was the sole scorer during a 1-1 drawn friendly with Southern United in Christchurch.

His partner, Deborah Ixeko, also travelled to Nelson to help settle him.

Deborah says Jean-Philippe was looking to broaden his football horizons.

“He would like a new experience and play at a higher level than he does at home.”

She says Jean-Phillipe felt an instant connection to the region.

“He loves the country and says Nelson is a beautiful area.”

With Deborah set to return to New Caledonia for work, Jean- Phillipe will lose his translator, but she says it’s the perfect opportunity for him to learn English.

“It is very difficult for him, but he wants to learn, he just loves football so he’s happy to adapt.”

Ibrom says he will help Jean- Philippe acclimatise by immersing him in Nelson’s French culture.

“We have already been to the Rustic Cuisine cafe, just to try connect him with as many French people as possible.”

Deborah says Jean-Philippe is a popular figure back home and has a strong French fan base thanks to his goal scoring exploits with clubs Limoges FC, AS Majenta, Vendée Poiré-sur-Vie and Poitiers.

Tasman United kicks off its ISPS Handa Premiership campaign on November 2 against Southern United in Dunedin.