Rise of the Comoros in football: New Frame

Silence greeted the Comoros’ first qualification for the African Cup of Nations (Afcon). The national television commentator momentarily had no words to describe the tension of their 0-0 draw against Togo in March and the possible joy of the Coelacanths that followed the final whistle.

The achievement of the Comoros is remarkable given that it has fewer inhabitants than the metropolitan area of ​​Johannesburg, with approximately 921,000 people. They also only joined Fifa in 2005 and they are the second smallest country in terms of population to qualify for Afcon after Cape Verde.

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When you’re such a small country, there are two paths to take to build a competitive national team: investing in football infrastructure and grassroots football development or, if you have one, relying on the diaspora who trained abroad in more organized football. countries. The best case is to marry the two.

But if financial means are scarce, we have no other choice but to rely heavily on the diaspora. This is what the Comorian Football Federation (FFC) did. The FFC is however representative of the Union of the Comoros and not of the Comoros archipelago which also includes the French extraterritorial department of the island of Mayotte. They looked for talent abroad, especially with their former colonizer in France, where most Comorians will seek a better life.

The Marseille connection

The first wave of bi-national players began to integrate into the team at the end of the 2010s, but it was in 2014 following the appointment of coach Amir Abdou that the bond was consolidated. Abdou was born in Marseille where the vast majority of the Comorian community in France has settled. It is estimated that between 100,000 and 200,000 people of Comorian origin live in the metropolitan region of Marseille, which former Comorian President Abdallah Sambi defined as the fifth island of the Comoros. Five of the 15 footballers who played against Togo were born in Marseille.

Rafidine Abdullah, who currently plays for FC Stade Lausanne-Ouchy in Switzerland, is one such player. He joined the national team in 2016 after much hesitation. “I didn’t grow up with the Comorian culture,” he says. “I thought there was nothing in Africa, that there was no European comfort. Also, to be honest, feeling more French, I turned more to the France team.

I didn’t even know if Comoros had a national team. What I knew about the Comoros came to me through the stories of my parents. It was a superficial thought, then once I went to Comoros I changed my mind and all the fears were gone.

El Fardou Mohamed Ben Nabouhane, the captain of the Comoros, also had doubts before joining the national team, despite having grown up in Mayotte and having a closer connection than others with the archipelago. “I owe a lot to the coach because through his speeches he made me want to play for the national team,” he recalls. “Of course there was a certain lack of perspective hanging in the balance, but I was determined to be a part of this project.

At first it was difficult to put everything in perspective, but I thought long term about the ultimate goal, which was to improve the national team.

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For eight years, the Comoros national team has experienced gradual growth. “Initially, the organization was complicated. I remember taking showers in my room and not at the stadium, ”says Abdullah. “There was a lack of comfort and we had to adapt. Now everything has improved. We have professional staff, payback times, it’s all here now. ”

For the first games, the goal was to avoid the heavy defeats of the first days. “It has helped that we binationals are more tactically disciplined,” said Abdullah. “Now that we have more confidence in ourselves, we are also trying to play and attack. We have shown that progress is possible even from scratch.

Nabouhane added: “To qualify for the finals of the Africa Cup of Nations and the World Cup qualifiers is to constantly play in international matches which improve Comorian football and give it visibility.”

Find balance

According to Boina Houssamdine, founder of the website Comoros Football 269, only 10 footballers who grew up in Comoros have been selected for the national team since 2014, and only three of them have played a competitive match. Two of them – Faouz Faidine, 27, and Ibroihim Youssouf, 27 – are part of the current squad of the national team. Faidine is the only one to have signed for a European club in the last decade. He joined the French amateur team of AS Gemenos. Currently, he is on the books of FC Nouadhibou of Mauritania, with Youssouf, where they are also coached by Abdou.

Abdou struggled to find a balance between bi-national players and local talents. “I expressed my vision last January as soon as I was elected,” says Saïd Ali Saïd Athouman, the new president of the FFC. “We want to put together a good national Under-17 team as quickly as possible and another under-20 before the Olympics in 2024.”

The search for the best talent born between 2002 and 2004 began to strengthen the national Under-20 team. If done right, it would lay a solid foundation and give the FFC the chance to build a competitive senior squad for the 2026 World Cup qualifiers. The talent pool is large, especially with 56% of the Comorian population is under 20 years old.

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“However, the goal should not be to qualify for the World Cup but to work on training to ensure the sustainability of Comorian football,” warns Ahamada Mohamed Thani, personal advisor to the president.

“We are also going to train our coaches,” Thani adds. “And we will do this through partnerships with the French clubs that work best with young footballers, because the best football training in the world is in France. In addition, sports centers are needed on each island. We want to take the problem to its root and also professionalize our championship, because we have to improve the league to improve the national team. “

To achieve this, a number of challenges must be overcome. “The CAF B license is only held by a local trainer and the only training center that existed on the whole of the territory closed its doors in 2017. A project to reopen and renovate the site is being studied for next year. wrote Houssamdine.

Thani says: “Our teams don’t have youth teams and we want to impose them. There is a lot of quality here, but the problem is the infrastructure and the training methods.

The Comoros has six main stadiums and, of these, only one is up to international standards. Two of them – the Fomboni and Sima stadiums – have only artificial turf. They were both built with funds from the Fifa Forward program but do not have changing rooms or booths. The association is currently working on the reform of the national championship, currently divided into three islands that form the Union of the Comoros, with the three winners vying to be champions, and on the construction of a federal technical center in partnership with Fifa. .

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But positioning football as an important project is difficult. “Sport does not take priority over school and religion,” Thani says. “So kids start late in clubs, usually at 16-17, and sometimes parents try to get kids to drop out because it’s not easy to make a living from football.”

But thanks to the triumphs of the national team, parents’ outlook on the beautiful game is slowly changing now. “We shouldn’t forget the power of the Internet either,” he says. “It allows you to admire players like Sadio Mané who were born in poor villages and were able to survive thanks to football. Examples like his inspire parents to see football as real potential work. “

Improving finances is also an important step that must be taken. “Some companies contacted us just after our qualification for the next Afcon. It will be important to obtain new funds, because the money we receive from Fifa and CAF is not enough, ”warns Athouman.

Football has become a unifying force for the Comoros where the individual identity of the three islands – Grande Comore, Mohéli and Anjouan – has always been strong. “There are people who even travel from Mayotte to our capital Moroni to follow the national team,” says Athouman. “The government’s contribution, which has helped us a lot, is also politically important to show that we are a nation with a common goal.

All of these plans will ensure that the stunned silence does not welcome the next stage of Comoros football. Instead, it will be a boisterous joy, with a solid foundation for a bright future laid.

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