Twice a French title-winner (in 1998 with RC Lens and 2000 with
AS Monaco), an armed forces world champion with France (1995) and
also second top scorer in the Belgian championship (with KSV
Roulers in 2006), Wagneau Eloi's 15-year playing career was
marked by many notable successes. And having scarcely hung up his
boots, one of Port-au-Prince's favourite sons has chosen to get
straight to work on behalf of his beloved Haiti.
Appointed national team coach on 8 April 2008, he finds himself facing a tall order: to emulate the Haitian heroes of 1974, who qualified for the FIFA World Cup™ held in West Germany.
"I know we can do it if we work hard enough," he reveals exclusively to FIFA.com. "Not many people here have faith in us, so it's up to us to prove them wrong. The draw has been fairly kind to us and we have to exploit that. If we believe in ourselves, we can exceed all expectations."
Boosting confidence is a key part of the former
centre-forward's master plan: "I know what my players are
capable of. Now it's up to them to really believe. It's
infuriating to see them lacking self-belief." By way of an
example, he cites their last friendly match on 23 April against
Guatemala, when Haiti, reigning Caribbean champions, went down 1-0
against one of Central America's traditional powerhouses.
"The side that day was made up exclusively of local players, so I was able to assess our strengths and weaknesses. We weren't far away from getting something out of that game, so my players have no reason to fear anyone."
Eloi is managing his side like a club team, with almost daily training. "I'm only letting them back to their clubs on Fridays. We've already lost too much time to only prepare from one game to the next. A mammoth effort is required and only after can concessions be made."
In this way, the Haitians are hoping to reach their peak in mid-June, when the qualifiers commence for finals in South Africa in 2010.
"Our preparations are focused on getting through to the
next round. It's a long-term plan, but we first need to
concentrate on the game against the Netherlands Antilles,"
says Eloi. "We'll be the favourites, but I watched this
team against Nicaragua and it's not going to be a walk in the
park. And if there is any gap in pedigree between the two sides,
that could easily be negated by our inadequate preparation
And the new coach has already earmarked those areas requiring urgent attention. "Our country has few resources and there's a shortage of almost everything. It's not an ideal situation for the players, but I'm trying to get them to understand that they need to get as far away as possible in order to develop as players," he explains. "A change of scenery is needed to get the benefits of a bit of peace and quiet. They underestimate themselves, but the talent's definitely there. And I have another cause for concern: they lack application. I want to get across to them that although football is first and foremost about the enjoyment of playing, they could also make a living from it. But to do that, they have to suffer and then grab their chance."
The former striker will also be hoping his top-flight experience ensures his charges heed his advice. He knows precisely what is required and is doing his utmost to communicate it to his players.
"They understand that, when I talk, my words carry the weight of experience, but they also realise that while they're just starting out as players, so am I as a coach. So we'll be growing up together and we'll all have things to learn from each other. We're facing a fascinating challenge and if we put in the necessary effort, we could reap rich rewards."
All that remains now is to get the required points on the board, but Wagneau Eloi's faith seems unwavering. "If we can get the whole Haitian public right behind us, I promise you, we can go a long way."