In December 2015, French coach Patrice Neveu succeeded Marc Collat as coach of Haiti in a two-year deal. A fortnight later, he qualified the Grenadiers for this summer’s centenary Copa América. In the past, Neveu, who had a modest playing career in France, has coached a swathe of African countries. The Frenchman spoke exclusively to Remezcla about his coaching role and expectations for Copa América Centenario.
What attracted you to the role?
I have been working abroad for a very long time. I had contact with the Haitian Football Association through an intermediary as the FA searched for a coach with experience abroad. I came to Haiti to see the facilities. I knew the potential of the Haitian players, plying their trade abroad, less so of the domestic players. I encountered a very motivated FA and its president. We qualified for Copa América. Haiti is somewhat similar to Africa, but the expression in the game and game formations are different.
You have worked in Niger and Mauritania among others, what’s the biggest challenge in Haiti?
The biggest challenge was to qualify Haiti for Copa América Centenario. We had a playoff against Trinidad & Tobago in Panama. Let’s say we succeeded deservedly in taking our chance to qualify, but we are also doing work at youth level – the national teams U17 and U20. I also rely on my colleague and assistant coach Nicolas Santucci to ensure that we make progress at the youth level.
That match against Trinidad & Tobago was tight.
For me, it was short notice. I didn’t know a lot of players and the match was also not on a FIFA date. I had about two weeks to prepare the team in the USA. We deserved to qualify. It was 90 minutes against a team that was slightly superior to us, but my players succeeded through willpower to upset Trinidad and score at the end.
Mental force, but what is your philosophy as coach?
I have my philosophy: a game that is oriented towards attacking – to get a maximum of verticality. I have the habit to play 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 with a striker in the axis. Given the quality of the teams I coach, I also have to instill a certain mental force and character to not implode during the game. Sometimes you simply meet stronger opponents, but you have to find a way around that. I have to adapt my playing system going to the Copa América, it’s a big tournament with strong opponents.
At the Copa América Peru, Brazil, and Ecuador will be much stronger. How do you assess your group?
A difficult group, but, you know, we should think about Peru. It’s our first match and you want to start the tournament well. It’s a key match. After that game, we have two extremely good opponents – Brazil and Ecuador. Our objective is to . We want to get the best result possible, but we know very well that the matches will be difficult.
It’s clear that Brazil is favorite to win the group. That’s the game everyone is looking forward to.
Ecuador will be very tough as well. They are of the level of Brazil, in my opinion. But, yes, everyone is dreaming of that match against Brazil. You have to be realistic. The Copa América is a big tournament. You can’t live in a dream. We respect Brazil enormously, but we also want to show some positivity on the field.
In 2004, Brazil played a friendly organized by the UN against Haiti in Port-au-Prince.
Yes, I have been told that. Brazil won 6-0! Against Brazil, I will use a formation that still allows us to play. In a match everything can happen after all. We need to have a right mental focus and not be overwhelmed by the context, even if it’s a prestigious opponent.
The social and economic situation in Haiti hasn’t really improved since that friendly.
Soccer hopes to bring a bit of stability to the country during the Copa América – that the people will forget the difficulties of daily life a little bit. The pressure will be big, because everyone is attached to the game in Haiti. It’s a religion. Everyone will be in front of the TV for three weeks to follow the national team. We are not the best-equipped team, but we have to face that reality.
We have to give our maximum and deliver an elevated game of soccer. The pressure will be huge. It’s true that it’s a country that still needs to rebuild and that still requires more international aid. The international community must remain present for the reconstruction.
In general, who are the favorites to win the Copa América?
Argentina. Ecuador and Brazil will be among the stronger teams. Chile remains the defending champion. It will come down to these teams.
When will the Copa América have been a success for Haiti and you?
That’s a good question. The world will be watching the Copa América. It’s a moment to say that Haiti is respectable country, a country of the future with a brimming youth, in particular in sports – that the negativity around the earthquake and other difficulties are a bit forgotten and that the we can present a positive image. Then the tournament will have been a success.
Haiti plays Peru at CenturyLink Field in Seattle on June 4 at 7:30 p.m EST. For more match times, click here.