Pfister: We have a good chance
Otto Pfister rates as one of Germany's most successful
coaching exports, although he has never taken charge of a team in
his home country. His experience and knowledge of the sport in
Africa and Asia is peerless, and he occupies a practically unique
place in the world game.
Among his many and varied assignments, the 70-year-old has taken the reins with Senegal, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana and Saudi Arabia, before supervising Togo at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™. He also boasts club level experience from a number of appointments in and around the Arabic world.
A few months ago, Cologne-born Pfister accepted the Cameroon helm with the objective of guiding Samuel Eto'o and Co. to glory at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations Ghana 2008, the coach's fourth personal tilt at the trophy. A few days before the action starts on Sunday, the 1992 African Coach of the Year spoke exclusively to FIFA.com.
FIFA.com: Otto Pfister, you're currently supervising a squad training camp in Burkina Faso. A few days before the action starts in Ghana, what's the mood in the dressing room?
Otto Pfister: We're all in good shape and hoping to do well. Obviously we're working very hard at the present time, as we want to do well at the tournament.
You've coached numerous national teams and a variety of clubs in Africa and Asia. Would you say that taking on a team with Cameroon's lofty ambitions is a personal highlight for you?
I do believe so. As you say, I've amassed plenty of experience, but the job of Cameroon national coach is certainly a highlight. I'd say my current position is on a par with coaching Saudi Arabia and Ghana in the past.
How did the position with Cameroon come about?
I was actually coaching a club in Sudan [Al Merreikh Omdurman], but after I was approached, the club agreed to release me from my contract. They were very accommodating, they understood this was a huge opportunity for me, and I'm very grateful for that. At the end of the day, Cameroon are a big team with bags of tradition and huge potential. They're always among the favourites in Africa, so the job offer was a fantastic opening for me.
You've said it yourself: Cameroon are always among the favourites. How would you rate your chances of winning the Cup of Nations this year?
I think we have a very good chance, otherwise we needn't bother turning up. If everything runs smoothly, we avoid major injury problems and we don't have to compensate for red cards, we have a genuinely good chance of winning the tournament. Obviously, there are two or three others who could claim exactly the same for themselves.
You have to include the Moroccans, who are simply a good footballing side. Côte d'Ivoire, that goes without saying. And you should never underestimate Senegal, nor Ghana as hosts. I rate Angola as one of the teams with an outside chance. There are actually no weak teams, I'd even go so far as to say ten teams are in with a chance of finishing as African champions.
So you could say this might be the best Cup of Nations ever?
Yes, you could say that!
What's it like taking charge of a superstar such as Barcelona's Samuel Eto'o?
It's tremendous. I do enjoy working with the big names, because they're much less problematic [laughs]. I've previously worked with the likes of Anthony Yeboah of Ghana or Togo star Emmanuel Adebayor. But seriously, I'm thoroughly satisfied.
Can Eto'o inspire a national team to a major trophy?
Yes, I'm sure of it. On his day, I'd even say he's the best striker in the world. In any case, he's definitely in the global top three. But Eto'o isn't the only genuinely good player in my team. Rigobert Song is a true leader of men with loads of character. Let's not forget Geremi, he's appeared for a number of major clubs in Europe. Finally there's keeper Carlos Kameni, who's playing exceptionally well in Spain. One of the most important criteria for me for selecting a player is whether he has a deal with a club in one of Europe's big leagues. Our squad includes players from all the top leagues. They're all playing at the highest level with their clubs.
Let us into your secret Otto! How have you, a European, been so successful for so long with African and Asian teams...
You're right of course, I'm quite exotic. I believe it's always a question of experience, intelligence and logic. You simply have to accept the culture, customs and accepted behaviour of the country you're in. There's no way round it, that's just what you have to do. If I turned up and tried to apply a German mentality, I'd just run straight into a brick wall. I've watched plenty of people flee in tears. You need to be absolutely clear that in Africa, you're working with players who are incredibly intuitive, but they're also unbelievably strong in terms of fitness and technique. Provided you're prepared to accept the local conditions, you can be successful.
Finally, a question that comes up pretty much every time your name is mentioned: Do you often reflect on the goings-on with Togo at the 2006 FIFA World Cup? What happened exactly?
No, that's ancient history for me. I might write a book about it one day!