A long-time professional player and now coach, Frenchman Hubert Velud has just this week clinched the Algerian championship with ES Setif. However, the 53-year-old reveals to FIFA.com that the memory of the January 2010 attack on the Togolese national team, which he led at the time, never strays very far from his mind.
FIFA.com: You are working for the first time in Algeria this season – how have you found it?
Hubert Velud: The level is pretty interesting. I've even found it consistent in quality with what I’ve seen in Morocco and Tunisia. It has gradually become more professional, and while there are still things to improve, I am quite honestly pleasantly surprised.
What have you enjoyed about the experience?
As usual, for the big teams, nothing is easy - especially on the road. Technically, there are very good players, and Algerian football is physical because there is a lot of intensity in the matches. There is also a great popular fervour. Algerians are really big fans of football, and there is a lot of pressure in the stadiums.
And what weaknesses have you seen since you’ve been there?
There is an obvious lack of discipline. The level of training of the players needs to improve. Algerian players are often technically gifted, and they can be strong, but tactically there are gaps. So it requires more work in training. It takes more discipline. With the talent that is in this country, it would be a shame to ignore this aspect.
Setif has retained the title of champion of Algeria, but the club was eliminated from the CAF Champions League by AC Leopard Dolisie one stage ahead of the group phase…
The Algeria championship is obviously the priority, and it is really great to keep that title. But our continental elimination by Congolese side Dolisie [4-4 aggregate, 4-5 on penalties] is a real disappointment. There were many reasons for that. For the first leg, we travelled three days to the Congo and also to return, while Dolisie had a direct flight to come to Algeria. Add the heat ... Anyway, we remain committed to the CAF Confederation Cup, with a tie against US Bitam [of Gabon on this month]. But the priority, I repeat, was the championship.
It has been a little more than three years since the Togolese team was the victim of a terrorist attack in the Cabinda enclave, just before the CAF Africa Cup of Nations in Angola. Do you still think of this, in which two members of the delegation were killed and others wounded, including yourself?
Everyday. It is impossible to delete it from my memory. I have seen people seriously injured. Two of them died. These are images that I will never forget.
How did you manage to handle the event emotionally?
After the tragedy, I was in Togo for nearly two months: to mourn, to attend the funerals of those who lost their lives, to be with their families, to talk. I did not go see a psychologist. Everyone handles this in its own way. If I'd returned to France immediately after, I think it would have been much more difficult to overcome.
Do you now see life in a different way?
It is easier to put details in perspective in your head. I never thought about stopping my job or never working again in Africa. I have a very strong relationship with the continent. Now I know that everything can change very quickly, which we cannot change.
Would you have stayed as coach of Togo?
It was difficult. Emmanuel Adebayor had decided not to play for the Hawks, and other players, marked by the tragedy were not really interested in working for the national team anymore.
The ensuing years have not been easy for you either. At Créteil you were assaulted in a parking lot, and then you had brief stints with clubs in Morocco (Agadir) and Tunisia (Stade Tunsien) ...
It has not been easy, indeed. Créteil is a club with a very particular environment. This aggression, I understand where it comes from. As for what happened in Morocco and Tunisia, it is part of the life of a coach. I do not regret them. I made emotional choices to go there, and neither club had deep pockets or large structures, particularly in relation to Setif. So it did not work, but it belongs to the past. That is life ...