Troussier: Africa is the heart of the game
© AFP

For world football’s governing body, arranging major tournaments like the FIFA World Cup™ is just the tip of the iceberg. Away from the spotlight, FIFA works hard all year round on developing the game across the world. From youth and women’s football to futsal and beach soccer, all possible variations of the planet’s most popular sport remain at the core of FIFA’s programmes. In order to highlight the importance of this work, FIFA.com regularly solicits the opinions of well-known football figures involved in development.

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 FIFA.com about football development.

FIFA.com: Tell us a little bit about how you got started as an educator and a coach.
Philippe Troussier:
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.

What is your opinion of the current state of football development, an area in which FIFA is heavily involved?
Football is divided into two parts: the professional elite and the grassroots. Development should incorporate all areas of football, from top to bottom. I know that FIFA makes a significant contribution on a daily basis towards developing professional and amateur football, which are two complementary spheres, in fact. One cannot exist without the other.

Personally speaking, how do you contribute to grassroots football?
I devote time to grassroots football every day, and whenever I’m asked to. It’s a real pleasure to work with really young players. When you go into coaching, there are some steps that you take that are absolutely fundamental, and grassroots football is an integral part of that. You need experts for each different category; that’s essential, because each time period is unique. These different developmental stages should be taken extremely seriously, because we need to pass on information to young players that’s relevant to their progress. It’s a time in their lives where we have to get it right; I really must stress that point.

The game is more precise, it calls for an increased level of participation, and it’s less physical; that’s why its appeal continues to grow.
Philippe Troussier on women's football

How do you feel about the development of women’s football?
It’s a good thing, of course. Football is obviously a sport that concerns women too, even if that idea might not please certain people. The level of play is constantly improving. It’s difficult to compare men’s and women’s football, but the important thing is that fans are entertained. Playing conditions as well as enhanced refereeing have contributed in a big way towards the emergence of women’s football. The game is more precise, it calls for an increased level of participation, and it’s less physical; that’s why its appeal continues to grow.

You’ve coached the national sides of Côte d’Ivoire, South Africa, 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?
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.

As far as the approach to football is concerned, what are the main differences between Africa, Europe and Asia?
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.

What memories do you have of the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™, where you steered Japan to the Round of 16?
I feel as if I brought a project to fruition that began back in 1998. At the time, I was in charge of the U-20 side that reached the final of the U-20 World Cup in 1999, which we lost to a Spain team that included players like Xavi. I was also coach of the Olympic team that finished fifth at Sydney 2000. All in all, it’s a collaborative effort that involves various youth categories and the senior team, of course. We weren’t just successful by chance. When you compare it to today, where 80 per cent of Japan’s national side play abroad, in 2002 we just had one player who was doing it on a big stage, in Italy.

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.
Troussier on football in Africa

Japan recently pulled off a memorable 1-0 friendly victory over France at the Stade de France. Did the result surprise you?
We should probably point out that France fielded an experimental side, and had an important competitive match against Spain coming up. That said, it’s also crucial to mention that the Japanese FA instilled the concept of grassroots football in schools very early on. Youth development is essential in Japan, and it is effective, stable and rigorous. The current results being achieved by the Japanese are not in the least bit surprising. In terms of development and training, I would actually classify Japan in the top three countries in the world. Consequently, it’s not a surprise to see how well they’ve been doing.

You’re presently working with Shenzhen Ruby in China. What kind of impact has football had in that region of the world?
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.

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?
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.