By Tom Westcott.
Tripoli, 6 February 2014:
Spanish Manager Javier Clemente, the coach of the national side, and his assistants were responsible for . . .[restrict]propelling the Libyan team to victory in the 2014 African Nations Championship on Saturday, just three months after taking up the post. The win did more to unify the country than any other event since the revolution.
“This was very important not only for the players but the whole country,” Clemente said. “The team has a very young average age and many had only recently started playing professionally which makes our win especially satisfying.”
His favourite moment of Saturday’s final against Ghana was at the very beginning, when he and the team went out onto the pitch. “It is the best feeling to get to play in a final,” he said, “but you have to win, because losing a final is very ugly.”
The team are young, aged from 17 to 24, and have been training hard since being selected by Clemente in October last year. Nevertheless, in the championship they displayed experience beyond their years.
“I don’t follow any particular method of training, I work to develop the individual qualities of each player, then mould the team,” said Clemente. “Each player has distinctive talents and skills and my job is to work out how to help each one reach his potential and, at the same time, make them one whole team.”
Clemente compares the game of football to war, saying that each match poses a new challenge because the skills of the opponents also need to be studied. “You have to work out how to beat them, how to find openings, ways to block or tackle each player – tactics and strategy are crucial to success,” he said.
“Training is very complicated,” Clemente said. “Sometimes I am very nice and sometimes I am very tough. You have to give something if you want to get something back,” he said, adding that this was the way he liked to work. “We always think about the players first.”
The lifestyle of the Libyan champions is very different to that of professional European players, he said. “We train very hard but the culture here is not used to being under restrictions, such as diet and strenuous physical fitness programmes.” This was not a problem, however, because the young footballers learned rapidly. Working alongside fellow Spaniards, assistant coach Ramon Catalan and physical trainer Alex Fernandez, Clemente says he now knows the players very well, so knows how to get the best out of them.
The great achievement at the African Nations Championship is seen as a gift, particularly to the young people of Libya, something that can inspire hope and faith in the success of Libya, on and off the field, in the future.
Winning the African Nations Championship had put the team on the right path, Clemente said, adding: “But football is like life, with a series of obstacles and challenges to overcome.”
One such challenge is the future of football in Libya, he said. The country needs better sporting infrastructure – colleges, schools and stadiums – and specific youth football training programmes, in order to encourage young players aged eight and over to take up the sport. Achieving progress in the area of youth training, and planning for the future stars of tomorrow, would be a tremendous boost for the country, said Clemente.
In the last few days the country has witnessed how all people, especially the youth, across Libya are truly overjoyed and inspired by this sporting achievement. In any country in the world, not just Libya, such a victory would generate a heightened desire for children to emulate their national sports heroes.
There is no doubt that Libya can build on this great victory.