I think the past tournaments have shown that in the African Cup of Nations anything is possible. There were many surprises already in the qualification stage of the tournament and I think what we have learned in the past is that you have to take every opponent seriously and go through the tournament step by step. I think the team that fights the hardest and wants it the most will have good chances to win the tournament. And we are more than motivated to make this victory finally happen.
Ivory Coast is one of the best African national teams, but only won once the African Cup of Nations. This year, it came with full strength for the tournament. Do you think that the team is the favorite to win it?
Of course we are one of the teams that are always in the talks for winning the title; I guess it is because we have many players that play in the strong European leagues. But in this tournament I think it also counts how much you work together as a team. We don’t have as much time for preparation as some other teams with players that are based in Africa. We only come together two weeks ahead of the tournament which makes it harder to work together smoothly. But we do have great talents in the team and I think it is about time to win the trophy again.
Many of the rivals of Ivory Coast were undermined by relationship problems and poor organization. Did you experience these things in the previous tournaments? How is the relationship between the players now?
The relationship within the Ivory Coast team is amazing, it feels like a unity and we support each other where we can. I can only make a comment on my own team, but with us there aren’t any issues in regards to the organisation of the team.
Many of the players in the Ivory Coast national team were brought together in Jean-Marc Guillou’s academy. The fact that you know each other very well is something that strengthens the team? How important was Guillou’s methods to your formation as a player?
Yes, absolutely. The fact that we know each other for many years really supports the chemistry within the team. It is always fun to come back together and perform as one squad, the atmosphere simply seems right. Guillou’s methods definitely helped to build this.
For many years, Ivory Coast had to deal with a civil war in the country, and the national team played an important role in the making of peace. Can you tell me more about those days? How the players decided to get involved in it? How was that experience for you? It helped to strengthen the team?
It was a very emotional time back then, it felt really tensed. The country’s civil war had been raging for five years when we qualified for the FIFA World Cup in Germany in 2006. It was just a wave of positive emotions that helped us players and the country to look forward to the future. We hated what was going on in our country, but it wasn’t really planned to get involved in it as a team. It was more of an emotional decision that was born through the moment of our success and before we were aware of it, our role had already evolved. When we travelled to Germany it really made us stronger, it gave us some sort of family feeling and the support from our country was intense.
Recently, African football has been experiencing a change in the hierarchy, with teams like Zambia, Mali and Cabo Verde in the top, while Cameroon and Egypt failed to qualify. In your opinion, what are the reasons behind this change?
I think this change simply shows that African football is improving. It is not only a few countries anymore that play on a good level, the gaps between the African countries became smaller and smaller. One reason might be that more and more European coaches start to work with the national teams. The necessary know-how is available in most of the countries by now and the impact of football as a sport grows continuously. I don’t think Egypt or Cameroon got worse; I would rather say the ‘smaller’ football nations improved.
What meant to you being awarded the 2012 African player of the year? Do you think that it adds an extra pressure for you to play well?
To receive this award twice in a row is a huge honour for me and I am really proud of it. It has been my dream since I was a child and it feels great to get awarded for something you worked really hard for. I don’t feel like there is extra pressure for me know, it gives me power and motivates me to show what I am capable of. With that in mind I feel very honoured by everyone who voted for me. Thank you one more time!