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Interview / Togo: Abalo: « Togo needs a leader »

Jean Paul, you have for long been skipper of the Togo national team, how can you assess the present level of the team with that of 2006?
Since my departure from the national team, I have watched the national team play only once, since it is very difficult for me to judge. However, I was very surprised when I saw the team play. It wasn’t the same as in 2006, the level was very weak. Later, the succeeded to weave some good matches. There are good players in this team, and if they are united as in 2005(when Togo qualified for 2006 World Cup), they can go far.

Once of the problems raised against this Togo team is a lack of experience. Should the “experienced” players be reintegrated to improve on the level?
It all depends on their physical condition. I don’t know if all those players played this season, because if they don’t have a club, to me it becomes very difficult for it to be possible. However, you can not completely push aside this generation (players who played Togo’s first ever world cup), but it pains me to see today to see Togo fall deep because we did not prepare the future correctly. It is time to revitalize the local league, because I noticed the presence of local players in the team. I wonder what they can give o the team given that the level of the local league is very weak.

So do you think priority should be given to foreign-based players?

Exactly, international competitions have nothing to do with the local league that is why we need experienced players. There are many things that have to be done all over, to prepare the future of the team.

Emmanuel Adebayor claimed he was furious with the lack of motivation from the players to player for the national team. What is your take on this?
I don’t really think the players lack the motivation. If a player lacks the motivation to play for his national team, it becomes very delicate. You either like or you don’t like football. In Togo, our players complain of the poor organization, but that is not a valuable excuse. I started with the national team in 1992 and the problem of organization has always existed.  But that did not hinder us from playing the African nations cup, and even the world cup. At a certain extent, the players have to understand that in Togo, things are not done like in Europe. It is now left for them to liberate themselves, and to communicate amongst themselves. When I was captain of the national team, like in 2006, I always tried to motivate the players, to call them and to find the right words when others did not want play for the team. Today, there is no player capable of doing that.

Some players like Moustapha Salifou or Alaixys Romao have the reputation of leading the team to the top?
Yes, it is true these players communicate and try to convince the others. But if these players don’t apply themselves what they say and don’t teach by example, how do you want the others to follow them? The problem equally stems from that. This team really needs a leader, even if it is not a player. Someone who is always there to motivate them and talk to them before each match. Usually, when the players return to Togo to play, they don’t make the difference between holidays and competitions, but we don’t come to the national team to joke. They are back in the country for one mission. Once that mission is over, they can do whatever they want to but not before.

What is your opinion on the appointment of Didier Six as head coach of the national team? Is he the right man?
It is hard to judge. But in Africa, national teams are not necessarily run like in Europe. To become head coach of an African side, and more over of the Togolese national team needs a lot of work. Didier Six is not always in Togo, so it is very difficult for him to do something concrete. If he were on the spot, he could have known what is happening around the team, but at the moment, he does not know the Togo team too well. In this manner, Keshi succeeded to achieve remarkable performances in 2005-2006. But it is first up to the players to help the coach accomplish his goals.

Finally, have you ever thought of lending your assistance to the national team?

Of course, since I left the national team, it disturbs me a lot. But it is up to the authorities to ask me if I wish to join the Federation. Unfortunately, I think I have a philosophy which some members of the bureau would not accept. I really want to help my country, but not at any cost either. But it is obvious that I am at the disposal of the national team to help Togolese football.

Signature : Matthieu Fédida

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