Dussuyer led Benin to their maiden quarter-finals appearance at the AFCON
Les Ecureuils defended resolutely in overcoming Morocco in the last 16
French coach seeks to spring a surprise in World Cup qualifiers
Historically, football has not had many goalkeepers who have become head coaches. Yet a few big names have nonetheless enjoyed successful coaching careers, including Italy’s Dino Zoff, Spain’s Julen Lopetegui and Morocco’s Badou Zaki.
Goalkeepers, it is argued, are ideally placed to identify the strengths and weaknesses of their back lines. Over time, many develop strategies for how best to close down spaces and take the required defensive approach to frustrate a given opponent. This is precisely what Michel Dussuyer has been doing since hanging up his gloves after playing for several French clubs between the late-70s and mid-90s.
Teams coached by Dussuyer are known to be organised. And while the Frenchman is not renowned for adopting an overly attacking style, he knows how to help his team defend well and keep clean sheets. Utilising an exceptionally effective defensive style, he led Benin to the knockout phase of the CAF Africa Cup of Nations for the first time in 2019, when they overcame Morocco in the last 16 to reach the quarter-finals.
FIFA.com caught up with Dussuyer, who spoke about his objectives with Benin and how his style of play paid off. “My first stint with Benin was good on the whole. I spent two years with them (2008-2010) and we qualified to the Africa Cup of Nations,” he said.
“Since I returned, we’ve tried to adopt a style that suits the team. We worked together until we reached the level that took us to the quarter-finals at Egypt 2019. This didn’t happen by accident, and we played very well as a team,” he added.
Having made the last eight at Egypt 2019, Les Ecureuils now want to build on that as they look to the future. When the qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ resume in October, Benin will be hoping to realise their dream of making the global showpiece for the first time.
Asked about their group that includes Congo DR, Tanzania and Madagascar, Dussuyer said: “The group is tough, as we’ll be facing three teams who appeared at the most recent African finals. Congo DR are a very strong team who came very close to qualifying for Russia 2018.
"Madagascar were the dark horses of Egypt 2019 yet reached the quarter-finals on their tournament debut. Tanzania have also made enormous progress of late and took part in the most recent Cup of Nations.”
Between optimism and realism
Benin certainly have grounds for optimism this time around and look very capable of competing in their group. “Every coach wants to win and we’ll go into the qualifiers looking to win every game and top the group,” explained Dussuyer, before sounding a note of caution about the final qualifying round: “We shouldn’t forget that after this group stage there is another round, which is expected to be much more difficult and against very tough teams.”
Considered an African football specialist, he has been working almost continuously in the continent since 2002. As well as a stint as assistant coach to Henri Michel at Côte d'Ivoire, he has enjoyed three spells in charge of Guinea, one in charge of Côte d'Ivoire and two at the helm of Benin.
Asked to predict which CAF teams would make Qatar 2022, the French coach said: “I’d go for countries that have participated before in the World Cup like Nigeria, Egypt, Tunisia, Côte d'Ivoire and Cameroon. Nor should we forget Algeria, who won the Africa Cup of Nations. Then you have teams that could spring a surprise, such as Mali, who have made huge improvement recently and who I’d consider a dark horse in these qualifiers.”