Africa: The Heart of the Game

A club and national team coach with a nomadic career path, PHILIPPE TROUSSIER has passed on his football knowhow all over the world. Accustomed to taking on unfamiliar challenges, he has enjoyed considerable success with modest, low-profile teams, particularly in Africa and Japan. The French-born globetrotter, currently at the helm of Chinese outfit Shenzen Ruby, talked to about football development. We publish excerpts here.
Q: Tell us a little bit about how you got started as an educator and a coach.
A: In my day, the media wasn’t as ever-present as it is now. I kept up-to-date with football by reading the sporting press, mainly. From very early on, I dreamed of becoming a professional player. But you can take many different roads to achieve your aims, so at 28 years of age, I put a stop to my playing days in Ligue 2 and opted for a coaching career.
As I was disciplined and a good listener, I resumed my physical education studies and obtained my coaching licences.
My first job was in the fourth division in France, with Alencon, and I had to put up with all the hassles related to amateur football that came with it. After that, I packed my bags for Africa.
The person who gave me the strength to become a coach and to strive to improve my technical skills and tactics, no matter what level I was working at, was Arrigo Sacchi.
Q: You’ve coached the national sides of Côte d’Ivoire, South Affrica, Morocco, Nigeria and Burkina Faso. What is your connection with football in Africa and what hurdles did you have to overcome during your time there?

A: Africa is the continent where you feel like you might come across an incredible player in the street somewhere, kicking around a ball of rags or a tin can. In my opinion, it’s where you find the heart of the game.
That kind of football represents a large part of life as an educator. In Africa, the main problems are basically organisational. The result is a lack of energy, and unfortunately it’s the performances that suffer.
For example, African players competing in European leagues, in very structured clubs that enforce strict discipline, find themselves completely disoriented when they return to their homeland, where things are less stringent. There’s a real lack of infrastructure, experience and proper training for coaches.
All that said, the continent is still making progress. It’s important to underline the work that FIFA has been doing via its training courses and Goal projects, thanks to which football has made giant strides within numerous football associations in Africa.
Q: As far as the approach to football is concerned, what are the main differences between Africa, Europe and Asia?

A: Football is a very individual thing in Africa, but a bit less so in Europe. The notion of playing together as a team is not as prevalent in Africa.
If you take the example of the Japanese, where you could argue that the idea of playing as a team has gone the other way, their vision of the game is also quite different. Just a hundred or so players could perhaps aspire to play for the national team, as opposed to some European countries that paradoxically bring through hundreds of players capable of performing at the highest level. The mindset changes according to the country.
Q: You’re presently working with Shenzhen Ruby in China. What kind of impact has football had in that region of the world?
A: It’s a rather underdeveloped football region compared to the north of China. I have more of a management role within the club. Football exists, but it’s only really just at the top level.
Youth teams are practically non-existent. The arrival of stars like Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka has stirred up people’s interest, but overall football still has a lot of work to do. With one and a half billion people, it’s possible to foresee long-term development.
In addition, FIFA has just recently started to undertake work in the region through grassroots projects aimed at the very young.
Q: The 2012 FIFA Futsal World Cup has just concluded. The sport has enjoyed considerable success in Asia, but how would you explain such levels of enthusiasm?

A: In those countries, the demand for an outright winner in football is much higher. In Japan, for example, there was a time when draws weren’t allowed. Teams are never happy with a draw – for them, the approach is always to simply score more goals than your opponents.
Futsal, therefore, fits the bill perfectly, as it is spectacular, fast and full of goals; hence its popularity. In my opinion, traditional football as it’s played in Europe has almost become the sole domain of “experts”.
Inside every fan, there’s a player, coach or TV analyst fighting to get out, while futsal attracts crowds of people who may not have as much knowledge, but just can’t wait to see an avalanche of goals.

November 2012
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