DIAMNIADIO, Senegal — Ask those that have watched Aliou Cissé take Senegal to 2 World Cups in a row and direct his crew to a victory within the Africa Cup of Nations in February, and they’re going to inform you that his nation’s wealth of soccer expertise is just one a part of the rationale.
There’s something extra tedious, extra long-term, however much more transformative that Cissé, the 46-year-old former Paris St.-Germain midfielder and former Senegal captain, has dropped at his squad since he grew to become its coach in 2015.
“He has turned Senegal into an actual skilled crew, which it wasn’t earlier than,” stated Saer Seck, an administrator who led Senegal’s delegation to the final World Cup, in Russia in 2018.
Most African groups don’t have the sources of their European or Latin American counterparts. However in recent times, Cissé has introduced some construction and consistency to the nationwide crew, Seck stated. He has made certain, as an illustration, that each one gamers arrive in Senegal on the identical day each time they’re scheduled to play a global recreation — a small element that wasn’t at all times the case earlier than he took cost.
“When my guys depart Europe to play with us, they want a while to adapt and shift their mind-set,” Cissé informed The New York Instances in an interview earlier this 12 months. “It’s a bit of festive,” he stated of life for these returning house. “So we’ve acquired to inform them, ‘Hey, sure, life is good in Senegal, sea and solar, and many others., however you’re not on trip. It’s the identical depth right here.’”
And that, he stated, “is the place this crew has made lots of progress.”
The crew now travels in personal jets and with law enforcement officials, a novelty. Its gamers sleep in higher beds, keep in higher resorts, and head to coaching and matches in buses and planes that depart on time. None of these issues — all widespread on the European golf equipment the place a lot of the gamers spend the majority of their time — had been a given within the nationwide crew’s latest previous, or for a lot of Africa.
Whether or not that can be sufficient for Senegal, the African champion, to interrupt via on the World Cup is one other query. Solely three African groups have ever reached the quarterfinals on the World Cup, and just one (Ghana in 2010) has superior that far since a Cissé-led Senegal achieved the feat in 2002. Senegal will face the Netherlands on Monday in its opening recreation.
After Senegal earned its qualification in March, Cissé sat down with The New York Instances to debate his crew’s possibilities, the restricted variety of World Cup locations for African groups and the place African soccer is headed.
This dialog has been edited and condensed, and happened earlier than Senegal’s greatest participant, Sadio Mané, was injured on the eve of the World Cup.
What are your ambitions for this World Cup?
A number of editions in the past, we went to the World Cup to find the competitors. Then, we had been there to be taught. Now, we’re right here to compete. African groups are going to Qatar to win. Once I have a look at my midfielders, my defenders, my goalkeeper, I’ve nothing to envy to, say, France or Spain. Kalidou Koulibaly is as useful as Marquinhos for Brazil or John Stones for England. Hugo Lloris isn’t higher than Édouard Mendy. That’s the form of confidence I need my gamers to have. I need them to inform themselves that if France can win, why not us?
African groups have struggled in latest World Cups. Why is that?
The extra you’re there, the extra possibilities you must go all the way in which to victory. In Africa, we’re 54 nations, and we are able to solely have 5 groups qualify. Whereas Europe has 13.
What issues within the World Cup is expertise. To win it, you have to take part many times. However how do you wish to have expertise should you go to the World Cup each 20 years? It bothers me to listen to that African groups haven’t had their breakthrough once we have a look at the African qualifiers.
It’s worse than martial arts. It’s like throwing a bone in the midst of a bunch of canine: What do you suppose the canine that get out of the battle will appear like? These are the difficulties on the African continent: the quantity and the standard of opponents you have to get previous to make it to the World Cup.
I may provide the names of 10 groups that might all be capable of signify Africa, and that high 5 is healthier than the underside 5 of European groups. Suppose Senegal, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, South Africa. …
The extra of us that go, the extra we’ll exist.
Ought to FIFA scale back the variety of locations that go to European groups?
I don’t know, however we are able to’t maintain going with a continent like Africa that represents a lot for international soccer and solely has 5 spots.
We exist. Now we have nice gamers. Now we have contributed to the event of soccer. We should always be capable of play our half. Give us the chance to exist, and we’ll have extra possibilities to go to the semis, the ultimate, and to win.
You’ve been the coach for seven years, an exception in Africa that many say is important to take a nationwide crew to new heights as you’ve performed. Why you?
From 2002 to 2015, not one coach stayed for greater than two years in Senegal. How do you wish to accomplish something? It’s inconceivable, and our leaders needed to perceive it. They did with me.
Once I took over the crew in 2015, folks had been asking: “Why are you giving him the crew? He has no expertise.” However I knew the expectations and the truth of this nationwide crew.
I used to be captain of this crew. Then I acquired my teaching diplomas. Then you have to construct a crew, a gaggle, with motivated, patriotic gamers, who don’t faux it in terms of bringing pleasure to their nation. With years, you develop into extra assured in what you do, and also you discover ways to handle the extra unsure moments.
I anticipate my gamers to take the nation ahead as a result of the expectations are excessive. Now we have nice gamers who can beat the perfect groups. However we even have a gaggle. Everybody fights to get the ball again. Whether or not Sadio Mané is on the assault or defends, he spends all of it on the pitch. That’s as a result of we wish to accomplish one thing large.
What has modified between the Senegalese nationwide crew you captained on the 2002 World Cup and the one you’re now teaching?
The mind-set. In Senegal, we used to have fan golf equipment cheering for one participant or one other: one for El Hadji Diouf, one for Aliou Cissé. As we speak, folks come to look at a crew. Our gamers put on the nationwide jersey. They’re proud to be Senegalese, proud to be African.
In the case of our preventing spirit, dedication and love for his or her nation, this crew is an instance. I’m proud to say that individuals acknowledge themselves on this crew.
What’s difficult, and what folks typically overlook, is that in contrast to in a membership, we don’t have a lot time. Folks suppose that nationwide groups can play like Actual Madrid, Barça or P.S.G., however we merely don’t have the time to coach towards that degree. Each recreation is decisive. You’ll want to win to maintain hoping, whereas in a membership you’ll be able to lose one recreation and get again on observe the next week.
With the nationwide crew, I anticipate extra dedication from our gamers due to that. As a participant you could put on 4, 5, six jerseys in your profession, however you’ll at all times have one nationwide crew.