FC Nouhadhibou (1st) host ASAC Concorde (2nd) on Tuesday evening in the summit clash of Group A of the Mauritanian championship (11th day). Cheikh El Khalil Moulaye Ahmed "Bessam", the 33-year-old striker of FC Nouadhibou and Les Mourabitounes, who returned to his country at the end of last year, agreed to talk about qualification for the 2021 African Cup of Nations, his club's ambitions and his career.
This clash against ASAC Concorde could allow FC Nouadhibou to consolidate their lead in Group A.
Yes, we have a five-point lead and we have won seven consecutive matches. In Mauritania, this is one of the most anticipated matches. It is a pity that it is played without the public, because of the health crisis. FC Nouadhibou is going through a very good period, and we want to continue this series. The club has ambitions, and that starts with retaining the Mauritanian league title.
Is that why you came back to Mauritania at the end of last year?
After an experience at Al-Khaleej (Saudi Arabia), I wanted to return to my country, close to my family. FC Nouadhibou is a well-structured, professional club that has ambitions: it wants to play in an African cup every year, especially the Champions League. It is a club that has the means to achieve this, it attracts internationals, both Mauritanian and foreign. And the arrival last November of Amir Abdou, who is also the coach of the Comoros, is an additional asset. He has experience, he is a very good coach, and we saw it with the qualification of the Comoros for the AFCON 2021. And then there is the prospect of playing matches with the local national team, which will participate in the qualifications for the African Nations Championship 2023.
You have played in Algeria, Tunisia, Lebanon or Saudi Arabia. Did you make any financial decisions to come back to Mauritania?
Yes, I earned more money abroad, but I have good conditions at FC Nouadhibou because, as I told you, it is a club with means. I wanted to come back because during my experiences abroad I was often injured. At Al-Ansar in Lebanon, it was an ankle injury that kept me off the pitch for six months. In Saudi Arabia, it was an adductor injury. I signed a year with FC Nouadhibou. I need to play, and then I'll see if I can go back, preferably to the Persian Gulf.
Despite some complicated periods due to injuries, have these experiences abroad been beneficial?
Of course they have. I was lucky enough to play for some very good clubs in Algeria (JS Kabylie and CS Constantine), and I also played in Tunisia. Wherever I went, I learned, I progressed, even if I didn't play as much as I would have liked because of injuries. I have adapted well everywhere because I speak Arabic, French, English...
Mauritania has qualified once again for the CAN. How do you analyze this performance?
It is the proof that the first qualification, for the AFCON 2019 in Egypt, was not a chance, nor a stroke of luck. In Egypt, we finished with two points and showed some interesting things. In Cameroon, our objective will be to get through the first round. This qualification is deserved, we obtained it in a difficult group, by going to win our last game in Central Africa (1-0), where it is always difficult to play. We drew twice against Morocco (0-0, 0-0). Mauritania continues to progress. You can see it in the league and in the national team.
How do you explain this success?
The president of the federation, Ahmed Ould Yahya, has made a lot of progress. He has developed Mauritanian football. With the national team, he has relied on stability. Patrice Neveu stayed almost three years (January 2012-August 2014), he qualified the local team for the CHAN 2014 in South Africa. That was the first step. And Corentin Martins, who succeeded him, continued this work. We have good players, in Mauritania and abroad. The players know each other well, and the younger ones who arrive integrate easily. The Mauritanian national team is increasingly been taken seriously. It's not like ten years ago, when they were losing almost all the time...
Interview by Alexis BILLEBAULT and Philemon MBALE