Cool, calm, calculated and never one to make hasty decisions, Côte d’Ivoire head coach Sabri Lamouchi’s style on the sidelines has a lot in common with what he was like as a player. A tireless worker, the 42-year-old former defensive midfielder – who was capped 18 times for France – was hugely influential everywhere he plied his trade, including notably at Auxerre, Inter Milan and Marseille. Known for always making the right choices on the pitch, he appears to have taken this priceless attribute into his career in the dugout.
“We are trying to find our own style,” Lamouchi told FIFA. “We’ve been working together and building this group for two years now. We’ve got to know each other and want to stamp our mark on the pitch.” Speaking of which, there is no question that the squad has the coach’s fingerprints all over it: a blend of up-and-coming talents making their debut at the FIFA World Cup™ and seasoned veterans, it is a group forged in his image, with youth and wisdom rolled into one.
Lamouchi’s work has well and truly blown away any doubts that may have arisen when he was appointed as Francois Zahoui’s replacement back in May 2012. Though this is his maiden coaching job, he is already on the verge of history: a win in their last group-stage fixture would ensure Les Eléphants qualify for the World Cup Round of 16 for the first time. His fledgling rein has been characterised by bold decisions, such as relegating Didier Drogba and Kolo Toure to the bench and handing a bigger role to youngsters such as Serge Aurier, who has taken Brazil 2014 by storm.
From the look of the west Africans’ form so far at this summer’s tournament, Lamouchi’s approach is paying dividends. After a superb 2-1 victory over Japan in their opener, their slick display against Colombia deserved better than a 2-1 defeat. “I was happy with our performance [against the Cafeteros]. I think there can be great victories in defeat and vice versa. If we play like that, we shouldn’t lose too many matches,” said the Lyon-born tactician, who is of Tunisian descent. “And our opponents won’t all necessarily have the quality that Colombia do,” he added.
Grief and Greece
Next up for Côte d’Ivoire are a Greece side with a solitary point and not a single goal on the board. Unsurprisingly, though, Lamouchi calls for calm: “We mustn’t get carried away. We are fully focused on the match; we know that victory would allow us to write our names in Ivorian football history. That would be a great achievement and the players are well aware of that, so it would be pointless to try to heap extra pressure on them,” the ex-anchorman stresses. “We mustn’t forget that Côte d’Ivoire have only played eight World Cup games, which is nothing. There are no guarantees we will make it through: we have to come up with the goods on the pitch against a Greece team with a very solid backline. We are preparing with this in mind.”
However, the group’s preparations have been marred by the tragic news after the Colombia match that Kolo and Yaya Toure’s brother, Oyala Ibrahim, had passed away at the age of 28. This put the upcoming fixture into perspective: “It’s tough to talk about football when you get news like that. It seems inappropriate somehow. Our training sessions have been shorter than usual,” Lamouchi confides, showing his sensitive side.
“What Yaya and Kolo have been through is a real tragedy. We’re here for them and their entire family. They had a crucial and difficult decision to make and they decided to stay. Where I’m concerned, when I’m preparing for the upcoming match, I try to be as professional as possible. I speak to them as men, which is what they are. They made an extremely tough decision and I’m grateful to them for their courage.”
Against this backdrop, it goes without saying that the meeting with the Greeks on 24 June in Fortaleza will be a particularly poignant occasion for the Toure brothers and the rest of the tight-knit Eléphants squad. “The group is standing by them and I think that with the choice they made, Yaya and Kolo have shown that they are doing the same for us,” concludes Lamouchi, whose wisdom will doubtless stand him in good stead on the path to success.