New Zebras coach, Adel Amrouche constantly flashed a wide smile during his maiden press conference at Lekidi Centre when he was introduced to the media this week. But the longevity of his smile will be severely tested as he begins a daunting task, writes MQONDISI DUBE
Amrouche, a soft-spoken character, but with an evident steely urge to succeed, would have to put in an extra shift to push the Zebras back to the pre-2012 levels.
The 51-year-old Belgian of Algerian descent, was confirmed as the new Zebras coach this week, as the Botswana Football Association (BFA) looks to breathe new life into a team that has constantly flattered to deceive. His key word was “passion” during a media conference in which little was said, and therefore, little taken away.
Amrouche’s trial is imminent, as he begins the first of lengthy examination of his coaching credentials in new territory. He takes his stand in the court of public opinion, when he leads the Zebras against Malawi at the Francistown Stadium, next week Saturday.
While the Belgian did not pick the squad, his fingerprints would be all over the crime scene if the team loses, as he remains acutely aware of the pressure that his job carries.
BFA president, Maclean Letshwiti warned that despite the arrival of a coach with vast experience on the unforgiving African terrain, Canaan, the Promised Land of milk and honey, might be still miles away.
Amrouche said he took the Zebras’ job despite apprehensions from some quarters.
“Some were asking, why are you going to Botswana? I said I am going to Botswana, I have a vision and a plan. It’s about determination for the office,” Amrouche told Mmegi Sport this week. He said if the association shares his vision, success is almost a guarantee. Amrouche remembers his stay in Burundi, where he said despite their struggles, he managed to send 23 players to European leagues, which is crucial for the growth of the national team.
“They bring their expertise to the national team.They also make money for themselves and their families. I remember some used to come to training on foot, but their social life changed, and to me that is a big achievement. We are in Africa, and I know what it means,” said Amrouche. “The youth must have models. In Kenya they have Victor Wanyama, and we must create it here.”
He will try and ship as many Botswana players as possible to European leagues, as he said he has established contacts.
He coached in Libya where there was no league, but left when the team was on top of their 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying group, ahead of South Africa and Nigeria. He said while he has come to Botswana to develop a strong team, results are key.
“We are here to win. We must make the people happy. We die in the field. When you play the game, you play to win; home or away. That’s what I also bring; the fighting
He said the type of football that he will play will depend on the players, and the team will vary its style. The Belgian emphasised that doors will remain open for any player, as long as they perform.
“The national team is open to all Batswana. If you perform well, whether you are in second division, you will make it. If you are 40-years, but playing well, you will make it. It is about who performs. You must respect players.”
He said he would involve former players in technical matters, to help analyse, so that a solid foundation is built.
A tech-savvy coach, Amrouche said he uses the latest technology to track players in order to determine and improve their performance.
“Technology is the methodology of work. My player cannot cheat me because I have everything about players. I use a GPS to track their movement. It gives me all the data about the players.”
He said while he calls the shots, the players are the main actors. Amrouche emphasised the need to work as a team. “I am not the project, I am part of a project.”
The BFA wants Amrouche to improve the Zebras ranking, which was at 133 as of August 20. But the coach believes the rankings are not the be-all, end-all, arguing developing the team is what is key.
Amrouche is full of praise for BFA technical director, Serame Letsoaka, as their paths have previously crossed, and said they share the same vision.
He promises that even if he does not achieve immediate results during his tenure, his successor will find all structures in place. He said in his previous stints in Kenya and Burundi, he left a solid foundation.
Amrouche received offers from South African sides, but said he had his sights already on the Botswana job. He has been tasked with taking the Zebras to the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations finals in Cameroon, but faces a sobering task, in a group that has holders, Algeria, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The BFA expects Amrouche to win the regional COSAFA Cup, which has eluded the Zebras since its inception in 1997. The other targets are to do well in the 2022 World Cup qualifiers and improve the Zebras’ rankings.
Amrouche would look to hit the ground running, and propel the Zebras into a full gallop early on into his tenure.
He has fallen in love with the country and its people. Amrouche’s family has remained behind in Belgium. While Amrouche said a mouthful, he knows that, starting as early as next week Saturday, his actions would be expected to speak louder than his words. For now, the welcome sign is out; “Hello Adel, welcome from the other side!”