Djibouti's coach and captain dream of a better future
Djibouti have improved tremendously under Julien Mette
Team’s French coach discusses his philosophy
Captain Waiss talks about his coach and Qatar 2022 qualifiers
“Discipline, beautiful football, intelligence, aesthetics, pride, unity, hard work and commitment.”
Those are the eight words used by Djibouti captain Daoud Waiss to describing his coach Julien Mette, who has been doing stellar work since taking charge of Les Riverains de la Mer Rouge last year. In conversation with FIFA.com, Waiss was effusive in his praise of Mette.
“He’s a young ambitious coach who wants us to accompany him on a wonderful adventure. He’s changed our mentality as well as our lifestyle, influencing things like what we eat and drink, and how we rest and sleep. We now believe in ourselves. The way he prepares for our training sessions is different to what we did in the past, both at a theoretical and practical level. He makes us watch videos to identify our mistake and know our opponents. This coach has finally created a philosophy for us for the first time since Djibouti joined FIFA in 1994," said the captain.
As the oldest player in the squad, Waiss also tries to be his coach’s eyes and ears on the field. “I do my best to support my team-mates, on and off the pitch. I set an example for them and urge them to seize every opportunity to stand out and attract attention, as that could earn them the chance to play overseas,” he explained.
The Djibouti national team consists of amateur players whose main jobs are in other industries. Asked about this, Waiss said: "This isn’t negative at all. On the contrary, it’s a positive thing that allows us to train together for extended periods, unlike other teams with professional players."
Qatar 2022 qualifying: The player’s view
The draw for Africa’s second qualifying round for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ saw Djibouti drawn into a tough group alongside reigning continental champions Algeria as well as Burkina Faso and Niger.
“This is only the second time Djibouti will appear in the second qualifying round. Back in 2008 we were drawn into a group with Egypt, Malawi and Congo DR. As for the 2022 Qatar qualifiers, if we look at the FIFA World Ranking, our chances would seem to be slim, but on the pitch anything can happen, and we’re determined to get good results,” said Waiss.
"Our goal is to obtain positive results. No team in this group is guaranteed a spot in the final qualifying round. We also aspire to gain a lot more experience,” he added.
Djibouti can expect some tough encounters in their group, not least the clash with Riyad Mahrez’ Algeria. Asked about the prospect of taking on the African champions, he said: "It’ll be like all the other games. We have to be focused tactically and psychologically from start to finish.”
A coach’s revolution
Before the new project headed up by Julien Mette began transforming Djibouti’s fortunes, the team were frequently on the wrong end of heavy defeats and even endured a two-year suspension.
FIFA.com asked the Frenchman to tell us more about the philosophy he adopted to lead Djibouti to where they are now. "It involved laying out my coaching methodology and the nature of my relationship with the players, as well as changing their mindsets to focus on the possible, not the impossible. For them, Djibouti were a side that almost always lost games, and that had come to be seen as inevitable. The first thing I changed at the mental level was to enhance self-confidence,” he explained.
"I used week-long training programmes requiring two sessions a day. These included video and educational sessions because Djibouti doesn’t have training centres and the players had never learned these things. I focused a lot on playing with passion and patriotism, because we represent a national team.
"We watched some videos of the Chilean national team as well as clips of Insigne and Callejon at Napoli to prove to them that you don’t need to be physically imposing to play really well. We tried to improve their positioning on the field, especially from a tactical perspective, and we also introduced some new faces – almost half the squad, in fact. That gave an opportunity to more young players along with some experienced ones,” he added.
The work paid off and Djibouti progressed to the second qualifying round of FIFA World Cup qualifying for only the second time after they eliminated Eswatini. “Eswatini beat us 6-0 in 2015, and I was certain they’d underestimate us. We studied them well by watching videos of their games. I realized they play with the same line-up and formation, so our preparation was easy. We’ve shown ourselves to be strong when facing difficult situations away from home, and when our opponents are pressing us."
Qatar 2022 qualifying: The coach’s view
"We’re the minnows of this group,” said Mette of Djibouti’s chances in the Qatar 2022 qualifiers, adding: “We’ll face African champion Algeria, who haven’t suffered a defeat for a long time. Some people think they’re going to thrash us and others have said they won’t watch the game, but it’s going to be an honour for us. Djibouti didn’t have a national team for two years and won maybe one game in ten years, so we’re proud to have this opportunity. After all these difficulties, Djibouti players will face Riyad Mahrez and Traore, and this will be wonderful.”
"We know all our opponents. Algeria and Burkina Faso have some top players based in Europe, and even Niger are far ahead from us in the World Ranking. I don't want to talk about our aims in the qualifiers, but before every game I tell them it’s 11 v 11 and that anything is possible in football. We can beat Algeria if they don’t play well in our game, but at the same time we might suffer a big defeat, but we’ll prepare well to try to win every game,” he added.
Excerpts from Julien Mette’s interview
"I want to help Djibouti’s players to play in top leagues overseas so they can bring professionalism to their country."
"A short stature was considered a negative thing in Djibouti, but I believe it can be a positive, and this is what I wanted to instil in the minds of the players."
"All the Djibouti players are amateurs except for Warsama Hassan, who is based in Slovakia, and Aaron Kadame, who plays in Belgium’s third division."
"We beat Eswatini and drew twice with Gambia. We gave Ethiopia a hard time and defeated Burundi."
"We fought hard to live the dream of playing against big teams like Algeria and Burkina Faso, and we’ll seize the opportunity and enjoy it."
"Playing against big teams like Algeria and Burkina Faso is a milestone in developing the game in Djibouti"