At the age of just 35, Mauritanian Football Association President Ahmed Merhba Ould Abderrahmane is one of the youngest heads of FIFA’s member associations. A successful entrepreneur and the president of FC Nouadhibou, one of the African country’s biggest clubs, for ten years, he is now setting about the task of reviving Mauritanian football.

Appointed the country’s new football chief on 21 July this year, he has just paid a visit to Zurich, where he met with FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter and several other prominent figures at world football’s governing body. Sitting down with, he then discussed the challenges that lie ahead and his long- and short-term objectives. Can you tell us the reason for your visit to FIFA?
Ahmed Merhba Ould Abderrahmane:
I’ve come to introduce myself and pay a friendly visit to FIFA and its President, and to express the intentions of the national association’s new executive committee, which was elected on 21 July. I came to tell the President how willing we are to work with FIFA and strengthen our partnership. I’ve also requested the assistance we need to make a fresh start and restructure Mauritanian football. I have to say that I was delighted to have had the chance to express our problems and set up a framework for cooperation with all FIFA’s services.

What issues have you discussed here in Zurich?
I explained how Mauritanian football has been immersed in a serious crisis for many years. Football came to a halt in my country and the national team disappeared from the world ranking because it just wasn’t playing. Speaking as the new president, I hope that with the support of FIFA we can come back strongly. I took the opportunity to invite President Blatter to Mauritania and to talk to FIFA’s various heads of department to see how they might be able to help us turn the situation around as quickly as possible.

What are the main challenges you now face?
We had some major organisational problems in the past. Our national association has been inactive for a long time and one of the first things we’ve done was to get the national headquarters operational again and reopen channels of communication. Our main aim is to get football back on its feet across the country, and the idea is for the National League to take care of the country’s championship and for the FA to focus on development. There are 14 clubs in the country’s top flight now, compared to only nine before, and we’ll soon be organising play-offs to expand the second division to 16 clubs. We’re also aiming to have a third division in place next year.

Are there any other projects in the pipeline?
Yes. We’re hoping to reopen the national academy for grassroots football in Nouakchott, which closed down several years ago. It was operating well before and it even produced some professional players who have since gone abroad to play. We’re also going to look at the statutes of the national association and bring them into line with FIFA’s standard statutes. And we’ve already made a few changes with regard to the media. There’s only one national TV station in Mauritania and it’s always been reluctant to cover national football. That coverage is vital if we’re going to attract sponsors and develop, which is why we’ve decided to set up our own TV studio and make a weekly programme for TV stations. The studio is in the process of being built and we hope to have it up and running in November.  

What is your future vision for football in Mauritania?
We have a young and dynamic team that comes from the private sector and has a grounding in football. We want to bring that experience to the FA and modernise the game. Our two key objectives are for Mauritania to qualify for the FIFA World Cup or the African Cup of Nations and, with the support of the authorities, to host an African competition of any age category.