Barely two months into his new job as Côte d’Ivoire coach, Sven-Goran Eriksson is about to take part in his third FIFA World Cup™ finals. Sitting down with FIFA, the Swede took stock of his Ivorian adventure so far.
FIFA: A lot of people think that Côte d’Ivoire will go further than any other African team at South Africa 2010. What do you say to that?
Sven-Goran Erikkson: I just hope we can prove them right. We really do have a good team with some quick, strong and technically gifted players. All the ingredients are there for us to have a great World Cup and though we’re in a difficult group the boys are working really hard to reach the objectives we’ve set. So far I’m really happy with their attitude and work rate.
What’s your reaction to Didier Drogba’s injury?
I just thought it was really bad luck because everyone knows what Didier means to the national team. He’s still in the squad, though, and we hope he’ll be able to play, but even I can’t tell you whether he’ll be ready for first match. We’re not in a position to decide that yet.
Can you explain his role in your appointment as Elephants coach? Did he really call and ask you to consider taking the job?
No, it wasn’t like that. The president of the Ivorian FA contacted me and made me the offer. Then, after I’d accepted, I met up with Didier, which was the obvious thing to do. I called a lot of other players after that but the first one I spoke to was Didier because he’s the captain.
Côte d’Ivoire did not lose a single game under your predecessor Vahid Halilhodzic, but it was rumoured that most of the players did not want him to take them to South Africa 2010. How important is the coach’s job in a team with so many stars?
I’m there mainly to lay the ground rules and set out the principles the players need to stick to. I decide how we defend, how we attack and everything to do with tactics. Coaching Côte d’Ivoire is no different to coaching any other side. It’s exactly the same, and the players are still the most important thing. Out on the pitch it’s all about them, but in the modern game you can’t just send them out and say, ‘Ok guys, sort it out for yourselves’. You have to put tactics, strategies and systems in place. It’s a bit like putting a jigsaw puzzle together.
Do you think you have gained the confidence of the players?
Maybe you should go and ask them (smiles). I think I have. But, of course, it’s nice and easy at the moment because we haven’t played a single match yet. The moment of truth will come soon and, as we all know, at the World Cup as soon as you play your first game everything happens very quickly. The preparations have been good, I’m very happy with that, and I’m extremely satisfied with the boys’ work ethic since I took over.
If Drogba is not able to play, what will his role be in the team and the camp as a whole?
We haven’t thought about yet to be honest, and we still feel he’s going to be fit. He’s so important for us. He’s the captain, he’s been in the national team for several years, he has lots of experience and he’s played at the highest level for years now. He’s also had a great season with his club.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned from the two previous FIFA World Cups you were involved in?
Well, the first thing is that it’s a huge festival that you feel very proud to be part of. That’s really important. Then, as a coach one of the most essential things you have to do is take the pressure off the players. There is a tremendous amount of pressure and if you can deflect it away from them, then that’s a very positive thing. They have to be calm and relaxed when they go out on the pitch and concentrate on nothing but their job.
Not for the first time, you will be coming up against Portugal. How do you feel about that?
The group had already been drawn by the time I took on the job. It’s a tough section; a very, very tough section. But I have faith. If I didn’t, then I wouldn’t be here.