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09.01.2006 Football News

Don't underestimate the Africans - Desailly

By Raymond-Radio B.A.R

Marcel Desailly is an elegant man. And never more so than when he arrived in Accra for the first leg of the FIFA World Cup™ Trophy Tour on 6 January wearing a traditional white costume.

In fact, he looked almost as majestic as he used to at the heart of the defence. The 37-year-old former French centre-half thoroughly enjoyed the ceremony in the country of his birth, and while he may admit to being virtually retired, his love affair with football continues. Despite being his usual busy self, he took the time to sit down with and discuss Ghanaian football, the FIFA World Cup and also what the future has in store for him.

Surrounded by thousands of guests, Marcel Desailly almost passed incognito. For a man who has had more than his 15 minutes of fam! e, he is now looking for a quieter life. His presence at the International Conference Center in Accra for the FIFA World Cup trophy unveiling ceremony was a personal decision, and Desailly, a young-looking 37, very much appreciated the honour being bestowed upon the country of his birth.

"The idea behind the Trophy Tour is a good one in my opinion, it builds up the enthusiasm for the World Cup. It's not just a plus in media terms, it's also a real fillip for the countries involved, particularly first-time qualifiers like Ghana. People here don't know the World Cup. They've heard about it, and this American-style hype adds to the excitement. It can only benefit football in the long run."

Desailly will, of course, always be remembered for his part in France's win in 1998 which caught the imagination of an entire country, and seeing the trophy again in Ghana was very much an emotional experien! ce for him. "I didn't want to go on stage to see the trophy, as I didn't want to relive it all. I'll never again have the Cup just to myself as I did back then, and I'm happier with my memories rather than having it and then giving it up all over again, simple as that.

"I had the Cup in my swimming pool, my lounge, I even slept alongside it... I really took care of it! Here, I would have had to hold back and it wouldn't have been the same intensity. It's almost as if I had lived with the Cup and then had to see it again after our break-up – it was that tough!" The man who won all there is to win for the clubs he represented, as well as for his country, went on to speak warmly, but not patronisingly, of Ghana's first qualification for the FIFA World Cup. "I think that Ghana are in a similar situation to Senegal in 2002. If they can get off to a good start, they'll build up confidence and then anything can happen. It depends on how they approach the tournament, which i! s the same for all the teams." 'Europeans always underestimate the African teams'

Even though Desailly thinks that Ghana could be a surprise package, he is more than capable of providing a sober analysis of the Black Stars' chances. "They have some real quality in the side, with Michael Essien and Stephen Appiah being the most well-known names. I think they're short of a playmaker, though, someone really outstanding like Abedi Pele or Anthony Yeboah were in their heyday. Essien and Appiah are great players, but they're not in the side to create chances. You could have a team of 11 Desaillys but that wouldn't be enough. I think that this team is very tight at the back and won't let many goals in, but they might not create many chances either."

'The Rock', as Desailly was known, went on to discuss the overall potential of the other African teams at the FIFA World Cup, stating qui! te matter-of-factly that they are still being underestimated by the Europeans. "I think that the African teams will do what they always do at the World Cup – one or two of them will get through to the second stage and be the surprise packages of the competition. All five teams have players who have cut their teeth in Europe and will be able to take advantage of the fact that the European sides will subconsciously be taking them lightly. They're always seen as lesser opposition and the European sides, without really knowing it, are never quite as well prepared mentally when they face African teams, which gives them a real chance."

Despite his Ghanaian roots, Desailly was not about to forget his role in some of the defining moments of French footballing history and turned to discussing Les Bleus' prospects in Germany. "France actually find themselves in a similar position to the Africans. They have a lot of very good players, but everything needs to slot into place! from the outset for them to get the confidence they need. If that doesn't happen, then France will be just as vulnerable as any other team. In 1998, we had the luck we needed and ended up going all the way. The fact that we carried on winning after that (UEFA EURO 2000, FIFA Confederations Cup 2001), showed that our confidence was sky high. That's what makes the difference at the end of the day."

And who would he be cheering for if his two teams made it to the final? "Well first of all, I'd be over the moon, but I'd really have mixed emotions. I'd probably think, 'I hope Ghana win and France qualify', which this time around would be a bit difficult (laughs)! If the two teams met in the final, I'd be the happiest man in the world, since I know I'd have something to celebrate either way at the end!"

At the age of 37, Desailly knows that his playing career is coming to an end, and while he still has some irons in the fire, be it in Europe or the United States, he is alrea! dy looking to the future. "I would love to work on training kids here in Ghana at my academy. It's not yet fully set up, but I'll be working on it once my player career is definitely over. I'm very much looking forward to sharing my 20 years of experience at the top level. I'm a born teacher, I really enjoy it."

Coaching France or Ghana, however, as was mooted a few months ago, does not seem to be on the agenda for Desailly at the moment.

"I've got no issues with my own ego and I'm not interested in politics," he states. "I'd rather spend my time on the pitch teaching the youngsters."

He is, nonetheless, ambitious, and he wants to set up more than just a run-of-the-mill academy. "I'd like my academy to be a sort of platform for African players to pass through on their way to maybe joining some of the big European clubs.

"The idea is to have some European coaches to instil some Europea! n-style discipline into the young Africans." Could the man who lifted the FIFA World Cup in 1998 work his magic on Ghana in time for 2010?