“France needs meetings with African countries”

France receives Côte d’Ivoire in a friendly match this Friday, March 25 in Marseille. Noël Le Graët, president of the French Football Federation since 2011 answered questions from RFI. The Blues had not faced an African selection since 2016.

RFI: A few hours before the start of France-Côte d’Ivoire, what state of mind are you in?

Noel Le Graet: I am very happy that this meeting can be played in Marseille, on our territory. I am very happy to be able to meet Côte d’Ivoire because for a few years, we have had a little trouble organizing matches against teams from the African continent. So this game was close to my heart.

The last time the Blues faced two African teams in the same year was in 2016. Why did you wait so long to see the Blues again face teams from the African continent?

Quite simply because between the competitions organized by UEFA and FIFA, we have no more dates available. We have ten matches a year, the Nations League took four days, that’s a bit of the criticism I make of the authorities. France needs meetings with African countries. It is essential that UEFA does not block all the dates.

Originally, a tour of Qatar was planned for the Blues in March. When the project did not materialize, did you necessarily want African teams as opponents?

Absoutely. I had asked my services to make contact with the teams that might be available and would be happy to come.

Was it a way of anticipating the World Cup, by varying the profiles of the adversaries?

Yes, but also to face African teams that we no longer have the opportunity to face. It was an opportunity to have two meetings.

You had worked a few years ago for a match of the Blues in Algeria…

I would like to go to Algeria, I am still a candidate. I was on very good terms with the presidents of the Algerian Federation. But it’s at the state level, we haven’t found security solutions.

The last African team to have faced the Blues at the World Cup was Nigeria in 2014, a complicated match for the France team. Do you find that African football is progressing?

Absolutely, when I see the number of players who are in our championships, I tell myself that we need contacts, that we need to do things together. FIFA is creating an office in Paris, of which I will be responsible. The African Federations will be able to come and discuss, we will make sure that Clairefontaine is available for the training. We will try to do better with the African continent.

Will we one day see the first match of the French team in West Africa or in Central Africa? Senegal in Diamniadio or Cameroon in Olembe have recently equipped themselves with stadiums that meet international standards.

We’re not going because we don’t have dates! My desire would be to go there, and to have back and forth meetings. But last year or the years before it was already complicated to go there. And with the new UEFA competition, we will play again in June. We could have had free dates that month. Next year, after the World Cup, it won’t be possible, all the dates will be taken. I think Europe has to be careful with its timetable.

How would you define the relationship between French football and African football?

Personally, I think we are on very good terms. I often receive presidents of African national teams. We have a lot of internships at Clairefontaine, we have made a lot of technicians available. And I am very open to anything that may be of interest to them. It’s an exchange anyway.

More and more young binational French people choose to wear the colors of African selections, we see it with Sébastien Haller with Côte d’Ivoire. How do you experience this situation as president of the FFF?

I find that very good. As long as they have a good training with us and the heart in their second country, I see no problem. I’ve never criticized that sort of thing.

On the other hand, the years pass and the observation remains the same, very few African coaches exercise at the highest level in France, with the notable exception of Omar Daf in Sochaux and Habib Beye at Red Star. How to make room for these coaches who for some have a track record, like Djamel Belmadi or Aliou Cissé?

They need to graduate. I don’t think there are enough of them as candidates for Clairefontaine. In any case, they are welcome if they want to pass the diplomas.

The African Cup of Nations remains highly criticized in Europe because it often takes place in January, but also because it takes place every two years. Is a continental competition every two years a bad thing?

Let’s say that the clubs, when they sign the players, also know that this competition exists. We cannot, at the same time, bring many African players into the clubs and challenge this organization. Every two years, it may be a lot but we have a World Cup which will remain every four years, the Euro every four years too, that means that between them, these competitions all follow one another both years.

Would you be against a Euro every two years, as Fifa had proposed with its World Cup every two years?

The World Cup every two years is no longer really on the agenda. There will be the FIFA General Assembly next week in Qatar. It’s not on the agenda. I think the file is a little forgotten.

You met Gianni Infantino this week in Paris, you didn’t mention the subject?

No, because he will not present the project to the FIFA General Assembly next Thursday in Qatar. It’s not on the agenda.

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