Desabre still thriving at Coton Sport
© AFP

Having set the world alight since joining forces in October 2012, it is now almost a year ago to the day that French coach Sebastien Desabre took charge of Coton Sport FC de Garoua. This was an easy and heartfelt decision both for Desabre, a great lover of Africa, and a Cameroonian club known for recruiting French coaches.

Once placed in charge, his contract stipulated just two clauses, as the strategist revealed in an interview with FIFA.com: “To qualify for the [CAF] Champions League and reach the group stage of the competition.”

Having attained these targets, Desabre is hoping to celebrate his one-year anniversary at the club with a triumphant finish: “Now that these two objectives have been achieved, we’re going to try to end the year strongly.”

Previously without a title win since 2011, Coton Sport have recently been crowned champions of Cameroon for the 12th time in their history. Desabre’s men have also reached the semi-finals of the 2013 CAF Champions League where they will face Egypt’s Al Ahly. They are thus on the way to emulating their famous run of five years ago, when they became the first Cameroonian club to reach the last four of the competition, prior to a final defeat by none other than Al Ahly.

“I think we have a fighting chance,” the 37-year-old coach said, who spent the previous three years at ASEC Mimosas. “We did well to get through a tough, tight group in which even [Tunisia’s] Esperance [ST] occasionally struggled. I’d say that of the four semi-finalists, we have the smallest budget by far,” he continues, clearly proud of his team’s showing.

And he has every reason to be. After eliminating Ivorian club AFAD Djekanou 3-1 on aggregate in the first qualifying round before overcoming Stade Malien 3-0 in the second, the Garoua-based club navigated their way through what was indeed a very tricky group.

While they lost both matches against Esperance, they avoided defeat against both Recreativo Libolo and Sewe Sport as they went about securing their place in the final stage. “Everything we have achieved this year is quite simply the result of years of hard work,” concluded Desabre.

Youth to the fore

Judging by the quality of the young players the club is producing, it is safe to say that their development efforts are paying off. A glimpse of things to come was given at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Colombia 2011, when Coton Sport forward Emmanuel Mbongo’s performances stole the show for the youthful 'Indomitable Lions'. Indeed, it was largely thanks to this up-and-comer that Cameroon were able to record a surprise 1-0 victory over Uruguay in the group stage and qualify for the knockout rounds.

The efficacy of this youth system has been further demonstrated by Kada Yougouda, who at just 19 is currently top scorer in the CAF Champions League with six goals. “Yougouda’s case is really interesting,” Desabre says. “He was integrated into the club at a young age and is now playing in the Premier League here.

“He and Mbongo will probably end up leaving the country and plying their trade in Europe,” he continued. “Indeed, Coton Sport is a club that relies in part on selling players to keep afloat, such as Jacques Zoua [at Hamburg], Vincent Aboubakar [Lorient] or Edgar Salli [at Lens on loan from Monaco]. Young players are developed extremely well here. We give them their chance in the Premier League as early as possible and they also have the opportunity to experience continental football in the African cup competitions.”

“They have faith in their young players here,” confirmed Mbongo, going on to describe his young coach as “a father figure, teacher and professor as well as a coach. He communicates a lot, we talk a great deal, and we bond. He’s played a really important role in our great results. And I'm not particularly surprised by our Champions League run, we believe in our own ability!”

“Having young players is an advantage because they are full of hunger and energy and they’re eager to learn,” Desabre said. “Of course there are certain drawbacks, such as a lack of concentration and maturity. But they learn very quickly by playing matches in the Champions League.”

Desabre can also call upon his more experienced players, some of whom, like midfielder Stephane Kingue Mpondo, even played in the final defeat back in 2008. “Don’t forget that we have other Cameroon internationals, as well as some from Togo, the Central African Republic, Benin and Nigeria,” added Desabre as the conversation concluded, his enjoyment as head of this multi-national ‘family’ clear for all to see.