When Michel Dussuyer stepped down from the job as Guinea national team coach in February 2004, he did so on the back of an excellent showing at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations in Tunisia, where the Syli Nationale were beaten in the quarter-finals by a last-gasp Mahamadou Diarra goal. Dussuyer, a former goalkeeper who played for several clubs in his native France including AS Cannes, said at the time that he wanted to spend more time with his family.
Fast-forward nine years and Dussuyer has been back at the helm for the last three years and overseeing Guinea's return to footballing strength. The 54-year-old told FIFA.com exclusively how he is hoping to help the country develop further.
Potential coming good
Buoyed by the success of the 2004 campaign, Guinea advanced to the quarter-finals of the next two continental championships, but then began a downward spiral that saw them fail to qualify twice and go out in the first round once. "I left Guinea in 2004, and when I returned in 2010 the results were disappointing. In terms of young players' education and infrastructure, little had been advanced in six years," Dussuyer explained.
The Frenchman, who was Henri Michel's assistant in Côte d'Ivoire and coached his former club Cannes as well as Benin after leaving Guinea, says that he is confident things are taking a turn for the better. "There are some positive indicators. Things are improving today despite a difficult economic environment. Some sponsors invested money in elite clubs during the last two years, which added value to the local League. The first positive results will show in the coming years. Football is very popular in Guinea, and the potential is there. We just need to keep putting the infrastructure in place to reap the benefits."
Looking more closely at the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, which takes into account all official senior team fixtures over the last four years, Guinea has enjoyed a bit of a roller-coast ride - reaching 45th in the world in March of 2011, but slipping down to 85th in June of 2013. Results this year have been promising, with three victories against two defeats in the seven matches they have played, and as of October, Guinea was ranked 68th in the world - an eight-place improvement on the September rankings. In Africa, only Libya's nine-place improvement registered as better.
Working towards maturity
Guinea started the year with a goalless draw in Mozambique in a FIFA World Cup™ qualifier in March, and then thrashed the same opposition 6-1 in the reverse fixture. They beat Zimbabwe 1-0 in their penultimate World Cup qualifying game before falling to two late Egyptian goals in a pulsating 4-2 contest. In between, they lost (3-1) and won (1-0) in friendlies against Mali and secured a 2-2 draw against a very strong Algeria side, who had won their last eight games in Blida before being seeing the run ended by Guinea. Salim Cisse and Oumar Kalabane scored the goals for the visitors in the second half to deny Les Fennecs a ninth-straight win.
Dussuyer said that when he came back to coach the side three years ago, he needed to change things. "I was offered a new challenge when I came back in 2010. I had to change the image and rejuvenate the team. The youth of our players, the lack of experience can make us miss important competitions. You cannot have it all, the enthusiasm of youth and the benefits of experience. The team needs to mature."
Unlike many of the other African countries, only a small number of players in Guinea's national team play their club football for top clubs in Europe. "It is a fact that Guinea does not have the same amount of top league players like Côte d'Ivoire, Nigeria or Cameroon. We only have Kevin Constant [of AC Milan] as a Champions League regular. But if you show team-spirit and solidarity, you can compete with teams that are supposed to be better than you. It is what Egypt and Zambia did when they won AFCONs, and they should be an inspiration for Guinea."
If Dussuyer continues to inspire his players as he has been doing since returning to the job in 2010, it could well be that Guinea's sometimes erratic ride in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking will see a steadier climb towards the top.