Poulsen and the Taifa Stars – a perfect match

  • Second spell for Kim Poulsen as Tanzania coach

  • Taifa Stars currently the surprise package in African qualifiers for Qatar 2022

  • Poulsen already caused an upset at Brazil 2014

Kim Poulsen and Tanzania are celebrating their tenth anniversary together. A decade ago, the Danish coach was handed the reins of the U-17 and U-20 teams, and plenty of water has passed under the bridge since then. As is the case with any long-term relationship, there have been ups and downs and even a break-up or two. Yet ten years on, they are still together, for better, for worse – and at the moment, it is certainly for the better. “You’re right, what I‘ve experienced with this country and its national teams does seem like a love affair,” Poulsen told FIFA.com. “It’s my second home. My wife and I have spent a number of years here now, my kids have grown up here and I’m really attached to the country. I love the people, the culture, the food… I can even get by in Swahili – I understand the language and it’s what I speak when talking football.”

Football has always been common ground for people of different nations, but the first step is the most difficult one. Fortunately for Poulsen, the coach of the Taifa Stars a decade ago was his namesake Jan, who brought Kim over to work with him, making the transition all the easier. “He made it clear to me that he wasn’t going to be there for the long haul and that he was going to hand over the baton. I saw this as a real opportunity to coach a national team so I seized that chance and I don’t regret it for an instant,” said Kim, who was in charge between 2012 and 2014 and took over again in 2021. In between times, he had two spells back in Denmark – at Silkeborg IF in 2014-2015 and FC Sonderborg from 2018-2021 – as well as working as development officer for the Tanzanian football federation from 2016 to 2018. “For the past ten years, I’ve been doing everything I can to contribute to the development of football in Tanzania by trying to anticipate things and looking beyond the immediate future. It takes a lot of organisation and structures, and projects and timelines need to be implemented over the long term,” the 62-year-old explained. “They’ve come back to me twice now, so I presume that I’ve managed to make a decent impression over the years!”

Opposites attract

There have always been plenty of skilful players in Tanzania, but the country needed someone to channel that talent, and Poulsen has proved up to the task. “Right from the start I enjoyed working with these guys. They listen, they’re committed and they’re motivated. They know that football has the ability to totally change their lives if they can make the breakthrough, so they put in the hours on the training pitch to try to achieve just that,” the coach said. “On a personal level, I saw that I could make a difference in terms of organisation and also on the management side, so it was a win-win situation.” The relationship started to bear fruit right from the off. With Poulsen in charge between 2012 and 2014, the Taifa Stars moved up from 130th to 105th in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking on the back of wins in qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ against the likes of Gambia and Morocco. “Those are my fondest memories with the national team,” the coach recalled. “Ironically, our best match in qualifying was against Côte d’Ivoire and it ended in defeat...”

Kim Poulsen. Headshots during the FIFA Technical Development Workshop led by Arsène Wenger, on January 27, 2020 in Doha, Qatar.

Poulsen was director of development during qualifying for Russia 2018, and the outcome was the same, with Tanzania failing to make it through despite recording some encouraging results. The Taifa Stars were knocked out by Algeria in the second round 9-2 on aggregate, despite a creditable draw in the first leg (2-2). For Qatar 2022, the Dane decided to get his tracksuit back on and head to the sidelines once again, and as things stand, this looks to have been the right decision.

Having squeezed past Burundi in the first round of qualifying (1-1, 1-1, 3-1 pso.), Tanzania are currently shaking things up in Group J. After a 1-1 draw against Congo DR, the Taifa Stars went on to beat Madagascar 3-2 and currently sit atop the group, level on points with Benin.

“We’ve got off to a good start in qualifying and everyone’s happy, but we need to keep our feet on the ground! It’s a good start but that’s all it is – a start. It’s a long road and there will be plenty of obstacles along the way,” said Poulsen. “We’re the lowest team in the group in terms of the FIFA Ranking. They all have most of their squad who play in Europe, and that’s far from being the case for us. But we’re trying to overcome that by making the most of the fact that our players are close by so we can come together as often as possible, and by making the get-togethers and training camps longer.”

“I don’t know what the outcome of all this will be, but I obviously hope that we’ll go as far as possible,” the coach concluded. “We all have a mountain to climb but we’re enjoying the ascent! We need to approach this mountain with real passion and make the most of every moment that we get to spend together.”

Spoken like a man who is truly in love…