Since the end of last October, 53-year-old French coach Kamel Djabour has been the head coach of Congo, who sit surprisingly atop Group E in qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™. With Niger, Gabon and recent finalists at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations Burkina Faso chasing, the former assistant to Jean-Guy Wallemme is hoping to build on his previous experience coaching in Africa and continue the good start for Les Diables Rouges (Red Devils) against the Gabonese, on 23 March in Pointe-Noire. He recently spoke to FIFA.com about the challenges of building the side and looking at his goals and long-term future for Congo.
FIFA.com: You have a contract to coach Congo until the end of 2014, after having been assistant for the team and coached in Africa previously.
Kamel Djabour: I actually coached players before at two African clubs: Tonnerre d'Abomey in Benin and Stade Malien. I was in Bamako when Jean-Guy Wallemme, who had been appointed coach of Congo in August 2011, made me an assistant for Congo, but also at Auxerre, since he spent several months [March-October 2012] at both jobs. Otherwise, I have worked in France at Racing Paris - where I played for a long time and I started my coaching career in 1991 with their juniors - Versailles, Franconville and Sannois-Saint-Gratien either as coach of the first team or as an assistant or youth coach.
You have inherited a team that leads its qualifying group for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, leaving you in a good spot potentially?
Obviously it is easier to work when there are six points after two matchdays. There was the win against Niger in Pointe-Noire [1-0, 9 June], and we collected two extra points against Burkina Faso on FIFA's decision, after the draw of 2 June in Ouagadougou [the scoreless match was awarded to Congo 3-0 after the Burkinabe fielded an ineligible player]. This has allowed us to have ambitions in a group that includes teams that have more experience than us. It is clear that success against Gabon on 23 March would bring us closer to qualifying for the final round. We want to continue to dream.
Is the goal that has been set?
The goal is to continue to progress, to move forward. Like other teams, we would like to qualify for the World Cup, but we are still far away. There are still four group matches to play, then the third round. There are many selections stronger than ours that are also seeking qualification, but we will try to go as far as possible. It must not be forgotten that the Congo is a small country, and it does not have a large pool of players ... We can learn from the progress that has been made in recent years by Cape Verde, who reached quarterfinals of the last CAN.
Are you having difficulties forming a competitive group?
The national championship has not yet restarted. The championship last season was split into two groups of fourteen teams, which in my opinion is not ideal for Congo, or the two teams (AC Leopards Dolisie and Diables Noirs) that have proven themselves better than the others. I also have a lot of players who play in Europe, but they’re not always secure at their clubs. Our goalkeeper Barel Mouko is a substitute at Lille, Delvin Ndinga plays very little at Monaco. There are other examples, and this is necessarily a handicap for selection. I spent over two weeks in Europe, to supervise and meet players in France, Belgium, Hungary and also Morocco. You know, it is not easy to build a team when your players do not play much in the weeks before an international match. I'm also looking for players who have Congolese origins and could be selected.
Are you thinking in terms of a long-term project?
I know how it works in Africa. We must win. When I was at the Stade Malian, there were people who were not happy because we did not win every game 4-0. In Congo, it is the same. There are people who forget too quickly certain realities. The team has not qualified for the Cup of Nations since 2000. But we still feel that the Congolese football is on the right track. The victory of AC Leopards Dolisie in the 2012 CAF Confederation Cup is proof of that.