Fossati: Spirit is our greatest strength
© AFP

Jorge Fossati, currently preparing to mastermind Qatari outfit Al-Sadd Club’s bid for glory at the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2011, has amassed an enviable record in continental club competitions in recent years. Yet despite his success in both the Asian and South American game, the Uruguayan coach was modesty personified when he spoke exclusively to FIFA.com, just days after leading Al-Sadd to victory in this year’s AFC Champions League.

“To tell the truth, even we at the club were surprised to go so far,” admitted Fossati. “I’d already had a spell at Al-Sadd back in 2007 and we won all the domestic honours going, but we’ve exceeded expectations by being crowned Asian champions.

"It’s a different situation to my time at (Brazil’s) Internacional de Porto Alegre, for example, because from the moment I took over there nobody talked about anything else except trying to win the [Copa] Libertadores. But Al-Sadd had only won the Asian title once before, and that was back in 1989 when the competition wasn’t as fierce, so just reaching the second phase was already considered a success.”

Fossati’s recent record shows, however, that he is not someone who is happy to settle for his teams to merely reach the second round. Indeed, in 2009 he guided Ecuador’s Liga Deportiva Universitaria de Quito to victory in both the Copa Sudamericana and the Recopa Sudamericana. He thus caught the eye of Inter, who appointed him in 2010 and charged him with claiming that year’s Libertadores title.

Though the Uruguayan strategist saw Os Colorados safely through to the semi-final stage, he was relieved of his post prior to the break for the FIFA World Cup™, only for his replacement Celso Roth to take the club to Libertadores victory just a few weeks later. Deciding to make a return to the Middle East, Fossati signed on the dotted line for Saudi Arabia’s Al-Shabab, who reached the semi-finals of the AFC Champions League where they went out on away goals to eventual winners Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma. All of which means that Fossati’s sides have reached at least the last four of every continental tournament his teams have competed in since 2009.

During our campaign this year, the team never tired of overcoming every obstacle and challenge they faced, and I’m going to lean heavily on that.
Al-Sadd coach Jorge Fossati

Their 59-year-old coach may go into Japan 2011 armed with the experience of working in Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil, Ecuador, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, but that is one area where he felt his charges may fall short. “When you’re a coach you need to be able to adapt to the qualities of the squad you have at your disposal, and in this case we’re talking about the first time this country (Qatar) have sent a team to a men’s FIFA World Cup,” said Fossati.

“The Qatari players in the squad are essentially the same lads as during my first spell at the club in 2007, which makes my life easier as they already know what to expect. But those players have pretty much never left Asia. That makes our foreign players hugely important to us.”

With that statement, the well-travelled supremo is mainly referring to three veteran internationals in the shape of Senegal striker Mamadou Niang, Côte d’Ivoire attacker Kader Keita and Korea Republic centre-back Lee Jung-Soo.

“These are guys who’ve played in World Cup qualifiers or even at the finals themselves,” said the Al-Sadd boss, whose team make their Japan 2011 bow in 11 December’s quarter-final against African champions Esperance Sportive de Tunis. "That makes all the difference at a tournament like this. They are the spine of our team.

“I think, to be honest with you, that the draw has given us the toughest road (to the final). First we’ve got Esperance and then, if we win, we’ve got no less a side than Barcelona. But, apart from against Barça, we do stand some chance of beating any of the other teams. The odds may be better or worse, but the chance is always there. That was the case throughout the [AFC] Champions League campaign. At every stage of the competition, people said we had no chance, but we went all the way to the final, where we won the title by beating Jeonbuk Motors on penalties on their own patch, under huge pressure.”

Said dramatic triumph served to underline Fossati’s ability to forge sides that are always a threat in international competitions. And now that Al-Sadd are imbued in the Uruguayan coach’s winning mentality, can they get their Japan 2011 bid off to the perfect start on Sunday?

“During our (AFC Champions League-winning) campaign this year, the team never tired of overcoming every obstacle and challenge they faced, and I’m going to lean heavily on that,” concluded Fossati. “At this moment in time, that spirit is our greatest strength.”