28 July 2002

Senegal: The Best Two Years of My Life: Former Senegal Coach Bruno Metsu


Behind his long flowing hair and the casual white T-shirt and shabby jacket, is a man who now calls himself "a white with a black heart."

Born in the north of France, Bruno Metsu was a journeyman footballer and an equally modest coach. That all changed after a chance meeting with the president of the Senegal Football Federation.

In Africa to take up an offer to coach Guinea, Metsu was watching his new team play Senegal in an African Nations Cup qualifier in Conakry. It was October, 2000 and Senegal were beaten, spelling the end of the line for their German coach Peter Shnittger.

After the game, Metsu was offered the job of coach of Senegal on a salary of 20,000 Euros (2.3-million Naira) per month and a two-year, renewable, contract.

His new job seemed daunting: At the time Senegal were trailing in the Nations Cup qualifying group and were given little chance in the World Cup qualifiers, where they shared a group with three former finalists, Algeria, Egypt and Morocco.

Forging a team out of Senegalese players from the French second and first divisions - many of them products of the same youth system that produced many of the 1998 world champions - Metsu went about changing the fortunes of his new country.

His secret, according to the players, was his ability to build a family atmosphere in the group. An example is his decision to keep the ageing Amara Traore in the squad when there were better players available. Metsu felt, and the players agreed, that the 36-year-old striker played an important, fatherly role within the playing group and was a steadying influence on the more volatile players, particularly El Hadji Diouf.

As his Teranga Lions grew as a footballing force, so Metsu the person developed. He seemed to warm to the African way of doing things rather than impose the strict European style discipline.

"I like the way they (Africans) look at life; nothing seems to trouble them, they very rarely lose their tempers and they are not that serious about work. I decided quickly not to impose any fancy programme or strict regulations. I looked at improvising instead. It has changed my entire existence," he says.

Metsu has found his soul in Africa and, as was quietly revealed on the eve of the World Cup, his heart too. He married a stunning Senegalese woman, whose identity remained a closely kept secret in Senegal's camp, although his new wife did travel to watch the World Cup. He also converted to Islam, taking the name "Abdulkarim.'

Just as Metsu's life has altered enormously, so Senegalese football has changed for ever. Narrow losers to Cameroon in the African Nations Cup final, where they were denied in a penalty shootout, and Africa's second World Cup quarter-finalist - where a golden goal denied them a place in the last four - Senegal have joined the ranks of the world's elite.

Here KICK OFF's Emmanuel Huesu talks to Metsu on his return from the World Cup.

Congratulations coach. Have your teams' achievements at the World Cup sunk in yet?

It will take a while for me, the players, and indeed the country to come to terms with our achievement at the World Cup. It has been undoubtedly a wonderful tournament, a memorable adventure that surpassed our wildest imaginations. It sounds a bit surreal because nobody expected us to do as well as we did. We were not expected to go beyond the first round. But not only did we qualify in a difficult group, we defeated the defending champions France and advanced to the quarter-finals. But for fatigue, we could have gone a step further. However one has to be satisfied that a small nation like Senegal has shaken the world football hierarchy at its first outing. It is a great feeling and I am happy for Africa.

At what point did it occur to you that Senegal could create a few surprises at the World Cup?

At Fujieda in Japan, during out last camp before the tournament. We were training for up to four hours daily and rather than complain, the players were asking for more. I have never seen a group of players so united, so determined and with such a positive attitude. The enemy of football is mental lassitude. Once a group of players develop the right mental attitude they can move mountains. At Fujieda, it became obvious the boys were ready to go for it.

Did you honestly believe they could beat France in the opening match?

Already at the African Nations Cup in Mali, this team had shown tremendous fighting spirit and proved its quality was beyond doubt. All, with the exception of the reserve keepers, play in France and are therefore not wanting in experience. I knew that with a serious game plan we could give the French team a lot of trouble.

Explain your famous 4-1-4-1 tactics that brought the French to their knees.

It was after the Nations Cup that I started thinking of the best system to play against France. I opted for 4-1-4-1 because I noted we had trouble marking and holding on to the ball. The French team have good strikers and we needed to cut off service to them. I knew if we did that we could worry their defence on counter-attacks with El Hadji Diouf and Khalilou Fadiga using their speed to effect. We tried it with some success against Ecuador in a friendly game in Japan. Also, I believe in gauging my players' feelings on the eve of a match. If the mood was good and devoid of pressure, then it would be alright on match day. This time, the boys were relaxed. One of them even told me 'Coach, don't worry, we will whip them.' In the dressing room before the game, I read their newspaper articles quoting some French players as saying they would thrash Senegal. It was meant to fire them up psychologically and it worked. When I read them Pele's remarks that Senegal was the weakest link of the group, I immediately noticed a revolt in their eyes. There and then I knew they were going to fight like Lions.

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