- Djibouti face Eswatini in the first round of Africa’s Qatar 2022 qualifiers
- Djibouti have failed to progress beyond the first round in four attempts
- French coach Julien Mette has lifted the mood in the team
“We want our dignity back.” That was the sole objective that the president of the Djibouti Football Association (FFD) set Julien Mette when handing him the national team job back in January.
“No actual targets were set, which pleased me. The president was realistic about things,” the French coach told FIFA.com. “He didn’t speak to me about qualifying for the Africa Cup of Nations, the African Nations Championship or the World Cup. All he wanted was to stop losing 5-0 and 6-0, and I said I would definitely bring him that dignity.”
It was quite a promise to make for the coach of a team that have never advanced beyond the first round of qualifying for the FIFA World Cup™ or the CAF Africa Cup of Nations and have grown used to languishing at the bottom of the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking. As the 37-year-old explained, however, he knew exactly what he was getting into.
“Before I signed I was invited to have a look around, and I liked what I saw: the level of some of the players; the potential, which they hadn’t made the most of before; and the facilities, which FIFA and CAF have helped with thanks to grants. When you have the right policy in place you can develop your football.”
Tactics and mental strength
Mette has kept his word so far. In the space of a few short months, the Frenchman has revived a national team that had not played a single match in two years. He has done so by tapping into the abilities of the country´s players and using the resources at his disposal to address their weaknesses.
“The Djiboutians like to play, they like showing their skills,” explained Mette, who coached for three years in Congo before heading to the Horn of Africa. “I want them to express their creative and aesthetic side because that’s the way I like the game to be played. But they need to bring some tactics into their game, a realistic approach, discipline and, most importantly of all, personal ambition.”
It was those missing ingredients that led the FFD to identify their main priority as nothing else than achieving some dignity and to name Mette as the man to make it happen. “The players were proud to represent their country but we’ve made them see that it didn’t stop them from losing all the time,” said the coach. “I’ve changed half the team because I could see that the old players thought like losers. They went in fearing the worst. So what I’ve done is work on tactics and the mental side of things first and foremost.”
Respect and pride
The shift in approach has quickly paid off, as the results from Mette’s first three matches in charge show: narrow 1-0 and 4-3 defeats in a 2020 African Nations Championship qualifying tie against Ethiopia, and a 1-0 friendly win over Somalia.
“In just a few short months Djibouti have achieved results, not necessarily in terms of scores, though they haven’t been too bad, but in terms of earning the respect of our opponents and making our supporters feel proud,” said the Frenchman, who now has fresh responsibilities as a result of this new mindset. “When we got back from Ethiopia, there were smiles and tears on people’s faces. People kissed me on the forehead and said thank you. That’s when I realised I had a whole nation behind me and that I’m representing a country.”
It is with the nation’s support that Mette will lead Djibouti into a two-legged FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ qualifying tie against Eswatini on 4 and 10 September. “Beating Ethiopia was a pipe dream but those matches were encouraging because Eswatini are a bit closer to our level,” he said, before pointing to another source of motivation. “The aim is not just to acquit ourselves well but to qualify. Eswatini’s biggest ever win was a 6-0 defeat of Djibouti and the players want their revenge and to consign that result to history.”
That defeat came at the very same stage of the qualifying competition for Russia 2018. But that was then, before Mette made his pledge to restore Djibouti’s dignity.