After suffering relegation from Ligue 1 with Lens last term, Tunisian forward Issam Jemaa is determined to bounce back with new club Auxerre. Jemaa became Tunisia’s all-time leading goalscorer a year ago, and hopes he can regain his best form to help fire the Carthage Eagles to success.
At club level, the 27-year-old’s career has not always gone smoothly. There have been some veritable highs, including a Tunisian league title with Esperance de Tunis in 2004, a successful European campaign with Lens in 2005, and a brace against Marseille in the 2010 Coupe de France. However, he has also battled niggling injuries, suffered disappointing defeats and endured losses of confidence.
One particularly painful memory for Jemaa is Lens’ relegation to the second tier, after what proved to be a nightmarish season. “It was mentally draining,” the new Auxerre signing told FIFA.com. “We dropped into the relegation zone and we weren’t able to get out. It was hard for everyone - management, fans and players alike.”
Confidence was my biggest problem when I arrived here, but I’ve been working hard on that side of things with the coach and I’m fighting to win my place in the team.
Jemaa has regained a measure of calm since making the switch from Lens to Auxerre, but the disappointing end to his time in the north still weighs on his mind. “We had so much bad luck, and missed so many opportunities to win matches by failing to convert easy chances,” he said. “Confidence is so crucial for us forwards.”
“This season, [Auxerre coach] Laurent Fournier has made quite a few changes and the team is more adventurous,” added Jemaa, who seems to be growing in self-belief at his new club. “Confidence was my biggest problem when I arrived here, but I’ve been working hard on that side of things with the coach and I’m fighting to win my place in the team.”
Jemaa’s move to Ligue 1 mainstays Auxerre is clearly having a healing effect, and will no doubt stand him in good stead for the challenges that await him with Tunisia. Still, injuries and misfortune have never really hampered his progress at international level, and his tally of 26 goals makes him Tunisia’s all-time leading goalscorer.
Aiming high with Tunisia
“At first I didn’t think about it,” he explained. “Then, suddenly, I realised I wasn’t far off [the record] and it became my objective. Now it’s done, I hope to score many more and, who knows, maybe even make it to 40 goals.”
“I’m lucky enough to be playing in Europe at the moment, and it’s thanks to the national team,” Jemaa added. “I started in the youth side when I was 15, and since then I’ve hardly ever missed a session with Tunisia. It’s always a huge source of pride for me to wear my country’s shirt.”
It was, however, in the Tunisian shirt that Jemaa endured his biggest disappointment to date, at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™. “I took full part in the build-up, but I got injured four days before our first match and had to leave the group,” he said. “It’s something I still find really hard to contemplate.”
Jemaa still sees plenty of opportunity to shine at the highest level with Tunisia, starting with the 2012 CAF Africa Cup of Nations, the draw for which takes place on Saturday 29 October. “This tournament will be different to previous editions, because many big teams have failed to qualify,” said the forward. “If we prepare well, I think we’ll have a good chance to go all the way. The team I fear most are Senegal, who are very strong this year.”
Looking even further ahead, Jemaa is already picturing Tunisia on the world stage in Brazil, home of his idol Ronaldo, in less than three years’ time. “Our preliminary group seems open, and I really believe we have a chance to qualify,” he said. “I’ve never played in a World Cup, and I hope to finish my career after Brazil 2014.”