These are challenging times for Paul Sauter. His gifted Togo side certainly have the potential to do great things at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Korea 2007, but his task has been made all the harder by language barriers, cultural differences, and the limited amount of time he has had to prepare his new charges.
Not that the German strategist is downbeat about his side's chances. Following a 1-1 draw in their Group A opener against Costa Rica, an optimistic Sauter took time out from his intensive preparations for the upcoming clash with Peru to give FIFA.com the lowdown on his experiences in charge of the Young Sparrowhawks.
Mr Sauter, tell us a little bit about your coaching
I worked at Ulm for a long time, the club I used to play for alongside the Hoeness brothers, Uli and Dieter. In all I spent eight years there as coach, and I also coached at other clubs such as Augsburg and Stuttgart. Apart from that I worked as an instructor on training courses for coaches with various teams at the Wurttemberg FA, and six years ago I took up a post with the German FA as a youth training coordinator, the biggest programme of its type anywhere in the world.
How did you end up coaching Togo?
The German FA set up a support agreement with their Togolese counterparts a few years ago, and the Togolese asked for their help for this World Cup. I was offered the opportunity to take over the side about three months ago, and I decided to accept because it's an exciting challenge and also an opportunity to take part in a World Cup finals.
How have you been able to prepare the side in such a short
space of time?
As soon as I arrived I brought together more than 60 players from all over the country in a series of training sessions in the capital Lome so I could start forming a squad. In the end I selected 25 players, although I used only 15 of them for the qualifiers. We then prepared for the tournament with three very productive weeks in southern Germany at the schools where I usually work. I honestly feel we've done as well as we could given the time constraints.
It must be hard working with such a limited
It certainly is, even more so when you consider I'm still doing my work for the German FA. I don't have any time off at all. Today, for example, I've been sitting at the computer for over two hours and I don't get a cent more for that. At the same time, it's interesting to be working with an African team, with the players of tomorrow.
What differences are there between Africa and
I've seen something very interesting in Africa. When the sun comes up, thousands upon thousands of men, youngsters and little children head to the beaches to play football. The passion is simply amazing. There is also a social aspect to it as well, of course. For a good few of them football is their only chance of leading a better life. All the kids want to be Eto'o, Drogba or Adebayor. That's all they think about, and in Germany you just don't have that need. Kids back home don't have the pressure of having to escape poverty.
And footballing differences?
The Africans have magnificent physiques and the kind of talent I've never seen before. They are quick and athletic, and as long as they train the right amount, then they've got the ability to be a world power. The problem is the mentality. In addition to the boys here, I've worked with a lot of African kids at my clubs and I've found that many of them lack a work ethic. I've seen thousands of kids that could have been stars but who didn't train as much as they should, who weren't dedicated enough. If you could drum that into them, it would be a different story.
How far can your team go in Korea?
It's difficult to say right now. We're in a tricky situation. Before the first match everyone in Togo was saying we'd win 3-0 without any problem, but I told them that Costa Rica had to be a good side because of their results in the warm-up games. And we really suffered against them at the start because of how nervous we were. So I couldn't really tell you how well we will do. We've got bags of talent, but we need to work on the mental side of things.
Next up is Peru. What do you make of them?
The Peruvians play a physical game but they've got a couple of stars. Reimond Manco has what it takes to be playing for the full national team and a major European club before too long. My players were a little disappointed with the Costa Rica result, but we've got time to get them in a positive frame of mind.
How do you motivate them?
That's been a problem because I don't speak French. I know a few words because I speak Spanish and English and there are a few similarities, but it's hard to talk one on one with the players. I have to use an interpreter and that's difficult because I can't be sure if they understand my exact instructions. It's not easy, but I'm hopeful everything will work out in the end.