Jonathan Pitroipa of Rennes and Burkina Faso speaks ahead of the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations. He discusses his country's chances of bettering their performance of two years ago and the influence of coach Paulo Duarte - the 'African Mourinho'
Burkina Faso didn’t get through the group stage in Angola in 2010. What are you chances of progressing this time around?
In 2010 we were in a tough group with the Ivory Coast, Ghana and Togo, although unfortunately Togo couldn’t participate after the incident in Cabinda. We did our best. We played well in the first match and got a draw with the Ivory Coast. It was hard against Ghana, but we saw they had a very good team and they went all the way to the final.
Our aim is to get out of the group this time. The fact we have qualified for two finals in a row is encouraging but now we want to show our supporters that we are progressing. They want us to get through the group stage and they have confidence in us. Everyone knows there is a good group of young players in Burkina at the moment. We work hard together and have a bright future. It’s up to us to fight now and to prove we can go a long way.
Your results in qualifying were superb. Confidence must be high?
It’s true. We have a stable team and our confidence has grown. You could see in recent matches, we are more comfortable in possession and we feel we can win the game at any moment. We approach every game in the same way, treating our opponents with respect whoever they are. We give our best in every game and the results have been positive. We know things will be tougher at the Nations Cup, but we have to treat the games in the same way and remain focused. We’ve got the Ivory Coast in our group once more. We know it’ll be a difficult game, but we’ll give everything we’ve got to qualify this time.
Several Burkina Faso players play in France. One man who is having an exceptional season in Ligue 1 is Auxerre midfielder Alain Traore. Could he emerge as one of the stars of the tournament?
Yes, of course. Everyone has seen his quality. He could become a really great player. I think he’ll give everything at the Nations Cup and try to show the quality he has been showing in France. I think he’ll fight for us like he has been for Auxerre. He’ll bring the team a lot with his set pieces, his vision and his shooting. He scores a lot of goals. It’s a real plus for us to have him and I hope he’ll be on form. What Alain Traore is doing at the moment is extraordinary and I think he can keep on improving.
The Ivory Coast will be seen as the favourites in the group. Do you think you can unsettle Drogba and the other Elephants?
They’re a very good team and everyone fears them a bit. They have some great players who play for great clubs. But personally I like to play against the Ivory Coast. We know their players well and the country is close to Burkina. If you compare them to Sudan it’s very different. We don’t know much about Sudan’s players or their tactics, so in some ways it’s harder to play against Sudan than against the Ivory Coast.
When you play the Ivory Coast you know it will be an open game because they will play to win. That makes it easier for us to express ourselves and to play our game. It won’t be easy of course. When we play them (in the second match) they will need points to qualify and so will we. So it’ll be a difficult game for us but also for the Ivory Coast.
It’s like a derby against the Ivory Coast. Do these games have a special flavour?
When we play against the Ivory Coast it always feels like a derby match, whether we’re playing at the Nations Cup, in Burkina or in the Ivory Coast. This is the game the supporters of both countries want their team to win, and they want us �to avoid defeat at all cost. It’s difficult. We want to win of course, but the best team will win, so we’ll see.
Paulo Duarte has done a remarkable job since he took charge of Les Etalons. Is his nickname ‘the African Mourinho’ justified in your opinion?
Yes, it’s fair to say he has a similar background and style to Mourinho. He’s a very good coach and since he has taken over he has managed to take the team forward. We have qualified for two Nations Cups in a row. He works well and is doing a good job with Burkina. I think that saying he is another Mourinho is going a bit far. Maybe in the future he can go on to join a big club. I don’t know how long he will stay with Burkina, but we appreciate him a lot. If we can win a trophy or qualify for a World Cup with him that would be a really good thing for the country, for him and for all the players.
Is it fair to say that you made it in professional football thanks to the academy in Ouagadougou, Planete Champion, where you learned your trade?
The training that I got at Planete Champion is the key to my success. I got really well trained. I could practise football as well as doing my studies. You learned a lot about football there, and I think it’s very important to learn the basics at a young age. I was lucky enough to receive this training back home, which means that when I went to Europe I was able to adapt.
It’s not easy when you arrive in a foreign country. You are young and alone, but my time at the academy allowed me to be mentally stronger. Germany wasn’t easy at first, but with the help of my friend Wilfried Sanou (who joined Freiburg from Planete Champion before Pitroipa) I was able to settle in.
The domestic league isn’t very strong in Burkina. Do you think it is compulsory to attend the academy if you want to have a career in Europe?
The standard of our league is weak. There aren’t many sponsors so there isn’t much money. The salaries are low and the clubs can’t really develop their structures. For a young player it’s really important to receive proper training. I think it’s still possible to play in Europe having started out in the domestic league in Burkina but it won’t be easy because the standard isn’t like the standard in Europe.
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