Eliminated by Morocco in the play-offs for the 2022 World Cup and having lost their first two qualifiers for the 2023 African Cup of Nations under Héctor Cuper, the DRC national team seems to have risen from the ashes since the arrival of Sébastien Desabre at the head of its technical staff.
Sébastien Desabre, architect of the Leopards' renaissance
Comparing the current DRC national team with the one from a year ago is like comparing night and day. The difference is so great. In the midst of a downward spiral since their elimination in the play-offs for the 2022 World Cup, the Congolese national team has risen from the ashes. The Leopards are undergoing a veritable metamorphosis, with their new coach, Sébastien Desabre, playing a key role. Since the arrival of the French coach, the Leopards have put in a string of good results.
Starting with zero points after the first two rounds of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers, the Congolese Fauves, who had all but given up hope of qualifying, now need just one point to do so, with just one day to go before the end of the qualifiers. They have picked up 7 points in three matches from Matchdays 3 to 5, including a fine victory over Gabon in Franceville (0-2). A miracle performed by Desabre. And it was no fluke.
Desabre, more than just a coach
When he took charge of the DRC national team, Sébastien Desabre had a plan in mind to pull the team out of the abyss. His plan was based on rebuilding and professionalising the team. To rebuild the team, he focused on rejuvenating it by integrating the best Congolese talent scattered around the world. Sébastien Desabre wanted a team with an average age of 25. So he brought in a number of youngsters for the senior squad. Those who play on the continent like Fiston Kalala Mayele of Young Africans (D1 Tanzania), who has been on fire this season, and Glody Lilepo of Al Hilal (D1 Sudan). There is also Inonga Baka of Simba SC (D1 Tanzania) and Esdras Kabamba of Bravo do Maquis (D1 Angola). As well as those who play in Europe, such as William Balikwisha of Standard de Liège (D1 Belgium), Dylan Batubinsika of Maccabi Haifa (D1 Israel), Aldo Kalulu of Sochaux (D2 France) and Rocky Bushiri of Hiberniam (D1 Scotland).
The players have readily embraced his philosophy of play. As manager, Sébastien Desabre stressed the need for the team to be better organised and for its image to be better marketed. The quality of the team's communication has improved significantly thanks to the collaboration with an agency outside FECOFA's communications department.
Improved communication with the players
The biggest change in the Leopards since the arrival of Sébastien Desabre is their state of mind, with unprecedented determination. When they take to the field, the Congolese players are there to win. The French coach was full of praise for the players' impeccable state of mind. "I'm proud to be the coach of this DRC team because the players' state of mind is remarkable," he said after the victory over Gabon in Franceville. Unlike Argentina's Hector Cuper, who was introverted and spoke no French, hence the problem of communicating directly with the players, Sébastien Desabre speaks directly to his squad without an intermediary. He clearly communicates his project to the players, who assimilate it directly.
Rigour in the group
Sébastien Desabre's greatest strength is the discipline he instils in his Leopards squad. A coach who dominates his group and who is listened to by his players. The rigour introduced by the French coach has benefited the team by eradicating the egos that existed under Héctor Cuper. The dressing room is alive and well. Sébastien Desabre has made it clear to all the players that "none of them is above the team and that he is not going to force anyone to come and play for his national team". He always repeated that with him, "no player was guaranteed a starting place in the national team and that competition for positions would make the team better".
Desabre, a coach for the future
With Sébastien Desabre, the future of the DRC national team looks bright. At least, that's what all the Congolese sports analysts think, impressed by the work of the French technician, including the President of the Republic. Félix Tshisekedi told him so on Tuesday evening when he received the national team. "Congratulations on the great job you've done in such a short space of time. It's remarkable," he said. For Congolese sports analyst and player agent Miguel Matinungina, Sébastien Desabre is a coach of the future. "He's a coach of the future. He reminds me of Hervé Renard in his early days. Sébastien Desabre left his club for the DRC, aware of the challenge. He wasn't afraid of the situation we were in, where there wasn't much hope left. But we had a confident and aware Sébastien Desabre. It's an extraordinary thing when you have a coach who knows what he's doing and can galvanise a whole group, beat the odds and start winning the hearts of the Congolese people," he said.
After resurrecting the DRC in the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers after a spell in the 'morgue' following their two initial defeats, all Sébastien Desabre has to do now is qualify the DRC for the next Africa Cup of Nations to win the hearts of all the Congolese. The final round of qualifiers for the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations will take place at home to Sudan in September.