In top-level football, the time allotted for rebuilding is often in short supply. Coaches may privately hope for it and players may even publicly plead for it, but the unforgiving reality of on-pitch events will usually dictate otherwise. However, now and again, taking time to reflect on the way forward for the team can have a hugely positive impact. Forward Moussa Sow, an integral part of Amara Traore’s new-look Senegal side, has been one of the indirect beneficiaries of this type of measured approach, as he explained to FIFA.com.
“I hadn’t prepared anything, as that would have been disrespectful towards our opponents,” Sow said, when questioned about his joyful reaction to his first-ever international goal, registered in Senegal’s impressive 4-2 away win over Congo DR last month, a victory that got their 2012 CAF Africa Cup of Nations qualifying campaign off to a flying start. “Senegalese football needed to spend some time sorting itself out, and that’s what happened,” said the Lille striker. “Sometimes you need to take a step backwards to gain momentum.”
Having failed to qualify for the last continental gathering in Angola and for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, the Lions of Teranga showed in Lubumbashi that they could once again be a force to be reckoned with. Not only did the surprise packages from Korea/Japan 2002 emerge victorious, but they played well and displayed a unity that, as fellow Senegal international Mamadou Niang pointed out earlier this year, was lacking under the previous regime: “We weren’t a team – there wasn’t a sense of us working together. Relationships were strained to such an extent that eventually everything came crashing down around us.”
An ideal mix
Former Senegal international Traore, the architect responsible for rebuilding his country's national team, has applied his ideas in an erudite, firm and inclusive manner. Against Congo DR, Senegal’s line-up boasted five players from the country’s domestic league, the first time this had been seen in an official match for nearly a decade. For a football-mad nation frustrated by recent failures, the result and performance provided a welcome morale boost. “It’s about time we paid the Senegalese people back for all their support,” explained Sow.
“We’re still going through a transitional period, with lots of new players – some with dual nationality, like me – being brought in,” continued the France-based attacker, whose first cap came just over a year ago. “We’ve got a younger team now, but there’s a perfect balance with the more established names. The veteran players have been through some tough times, but they learnt some valuable lessons along the way, and they’re making sure that we don’t fall into the same traps as before.”
This new chapter in Senegalese football history opened in March with a 2-0 victory versus Greece, a result that gave Traore the perfect start to his reign in charge. “The recent friendly matches enabled us to lay some foundations,” said Sow. “Many of the squad play their football in Ligue 1 in France. It’s a real advantage, because we all know each other well. There’s an incredible atmosphere when we get together – it’s a lot of fun. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think that the team had been together for a long time,” added the former France U-21 international, who has “no regrets whatsoever about opting to play for Senegal”.
The former Rennes player believes that Traore’s approach can be summed up in one word: respect. Respect for team-mates as well as opponents, above all. “Our coaching staff keep a careful eye on that sort of thing. They always make sure that our behaviour is impeccable, towards each other and towards others,” he explained. In addition, Traore is said to advocate a deep respect for the game itself, something that has been welcomed by his charges. “The coach really wants us to enjoy ourselves on the pitch, and he knows that the way to encourage that is to have us play in a style that suits our way of thinking and our culture.”
A rebuilding model
A passionate and confident man-manager, Traore recently shed a little more light on his footballing philosophy: “We’ve taken note of how Spain make use of the skills of Xavi and Iniesta. In the modern game, your entire midfield needs to be technically gifted, instead of remaining static in front of the defence and being incapable of relaunching an attack. In players like Remi Gomis, Mickael Tavares and Makhtar Thioune, we’ve got real footballers who can do a lot more than just break up attacks or pick up loose balls.”
While he is not yet ready to shout it from the rooftops, it is clear that Sow believes that this revamped Senegal team could end up exceeding all expectations. “We could actually become a model for sensible, patient rebuilding,” he concluded. "You have to commend the Senegalese FA for their approach – they took time to evaluate what improvements were needed, and were brave enough to make the right decisions in an unhurried fashion, all for the future benefit of the national team."
Sometimes being allowed time to reconstruct really can reap rewards.