Ivoirian international Wilfried Bony may still be relatively young, but he has a wise head on his shoulders. With just a few weeks to go before the start of the 2012 CAF Africa Cup of Nations, the forward has been advocating a serious, hard-working approach for a Côte d’Ivoire side that has failed to make its individual talents gel into a successful unit since the emergence of their so-called ‘golden generation’.
For many years, Les Eléphants have paid a high price for the disharmony that existed within their dressing room, but this unfortunate phenomenon is something newcomer Bony firmly believes to be “a thing of the past”.
But could this be wishful thinking on his part? Last month, during a 1-1 draw with South Africa, Côte d’Ivoire stalwarts Didier Zokora and Yaya Toure were involved in an alleged altercation that saw the players trade insults at half-time. Even their most forgiving fans would not describe this as the ideal build-up to a continental tournament for which their heroes are regarded as favourites.
“Of course there are going to be disagreements within a team. When people say things, that’s obviously going to create some discussion. Sometimes it goes a bit overboard, but if you didn’t bring things out into the open, problems would never get resolved,” explained Bony to FIFA.com.
“I’ve only been involved in the squad for eight matches. When I arrived, I found a united bunch of players that were good at communicating with each other. Nothing’s changed since then, and we’re all focused on the same goal: winning the Cup of Nations. The older players have stuck with us for that very reason,” continued the Vitesse Arnhem striker, who has scored nine goals in 16 matches for the team currently lying sixth in the Eredivisie.
“When you play up front, hard work alone won’t make the difference; luck also plays a part. When you start to score regularly, it’s a real boost to your confidence,” said the former Sparta Prague attacker.
It was in the Czech capital that the Bingerville native’s reputation of fearsome goalscorer was forged, after he found the net 22 times in 58 matches. His performances in the UEFA Europa League last season were reported to have attracted the attention of several clubs in France and Germany, but the player opted to remain in the Netherlands.
His clinical finishing convinced Côte d’Ivoire national coach Francois Zahoui to bring him on board as the ideal back-up for Didier Drogba. The Chelsea star quickly became a valued mentor and advisor. “We’ve got the same physical build, we play in the same position, and he helps me enormously,” explained the player who came through the ranks at Ivoirian outfit Issia Wazi.
“We often give each other a call, especially before squad get-togethers. We talk about tactics, but also about my career, and what I need to do to improve my game. In general, the veterans are very helpful with younger players like me, whose international careers are just beginning,” he added.
Listening to him talk about the healthy atmosphere within the Ivoirian set-up, it is difficult to detect any sign of the type of discord that has doubtless had an impact on the nation’s chances of success at continental level in the past. Zahoui’s arrival at the helm in August 2010 is, according to Bony, not unrelated.
“The coach has confidence in us; he creates a sense of responsibility in the squad without coming across as overbearing,” said the 23-year-old goalscorer. “He makes it clear how he wants us to play the game and ensures that we’re always there for each other on and off the pitch. He’s provided us with the keys to success, and now it’s up to us to give our all and bring home the trophy,” he added.
In the absence of Egypt, Cameroon and Nigeria, the 2006 finalists are highly fancied to go far in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. “It’s good that there are fewer big guns for us to beat, as it makes our sole ambition – overall victory – a little bit more attainable,” he said.
“But we’re not going to be underestimating anyone. Senegal and Ghana will have very strong sides, and the other teams will raise their game when they play us, as they always do. We never have it easy, even against the so-called minnows. We saw that during our qualifying campaign,” recalled Bony, who has scored three goals at international level.
The Vitesse front man is convinced that, if he and his team-mates take the task facing them seriously, and do not lose their focus, things should fall into place. “Our preparations for the tournament will set the tone; we need to put in the necessary effort to go all the way,” he said, concluding on a sensible note: “We’re a well-organised side, but if we don’t give 100 per cent, and work together as a team, we’ll fall short of our goal.”