China PR coach Bruno Bini is a man of many talents. For some, the 61-year-old Frenchman is a philosopher, known to regularly quote the likes of Albert Camus or Voltaire to inspire his players. Others, though, consider him a musician, someone who celebrates victories with the team by singing and playing guitar. Last but not least, he is a writer, who is often seen leaving poetic messages to illustrate a point. The coach, though, thinks otherwise.
"I am a football coach. I will be happier if we speak about football," the former France women's head coach told FIFA.com. "My interests are on the team's performances on the field. The tactics we are using (like music, poems and quotations) are just for enhancing communication with the players."
Indeed, who dares to argue with Bini? After all, this is the coach who lead France to the last four in both the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup Germany™ and the Olympic Women's Football Tournament at London 2012. Since taking over as China women's head coach last September, he has guided the Steel Roses to a series of morale-boosting friendly victories, before leading them through Asia's Olympic qualifying for Rio 2016 as his side secured a return to the global showpiece.
"When I was appointed China coach, the team were not in an ideal way," he explained. "They had suffered six consecutive losses so the players were not in the best form. But the pressure was big: we were expected to qualify for the Olympic Games. We were given just a few months to prepare for March's qualifiers too, a short time-frame considering the scale of the mission."
Hitting the ground running
Bini got off to a valiant start with his new side. Just a month after taking charge, the Steel Roses emerged a different team, recording two wins and two draws in their opening four matches. Looking back, Bini singled out the 2-1 win against England as the starting point in his rebuilding process.
"Defeating England was a timely boost for us," he said. "It was the first time (in a long period) that China had beaten a side ranked among the world's top five. I was glad to see the good changes by the team."
China would go on to meet world champions USA in two December friendlies, during which they lost the first 2-0, before earning a spirited 1-0 victory in the second encounter. For Bini, though, it was during the opening loss that the players started to regain their self-esteem.
"The result was not what we wanted and neither was the performance, we could have lost by a greater margin. But the spirit of the players was satisfying. Everyone told me that we could deal with the Americans. When you face the world's number one team and you are not afraid, isn't that a good sign?"
Fine-tuned, Bini's side entered last month's Olympic qualification in Japan looking to right some wrongs, having missed out on London 2012. While the team were expected to continue their winning form, they had a real test against Korea DPR in the second game. In what proved to be a hard-fought encounter, China had to come from behind to draw 1-1 in dramatic fashion, with Wang Shuang cancelling out Ra Un-sim's first-half opener with a stoppage-time spot-kick.
"The result was important for us," Bini reflected. "Had we lost, it would have affected our entire campaign. It was a crucial occasion for the players, too. They felt strong after the game. I felt like I had aged five years during that game but when we drew level with the last-ditch effort, I felt six years younger! It was indeed a memorable match for us."
As the manager pointed out, the opening performances would stand the team in good stead en route to progression. They would overcome hosts and Canada 2015 runners-up Japan before a 1-0 triumph against Korea Republic sealed their place among the top two.
"The team showed the progress they have made in teamwork and combination. When I coached France, we played passing football with organisation. I want to continue this DNA with China. We will produce a three-year scheme afterwards and I hope we can go to the next Women's World Cup on my home soil. China go to France 2019 under a French coach, that should be headline news," he smiled.
With Rio 2016 looming large, Bini did not hide his intent of making a real impact in his first global tournament in charge of China.
“Every team will head to Rio with high hopes. Every coach wants a medal. But we want not only good results, but improvements also. We didn’t score many goals during qualifying so I want my team to enhance their finishing."