Amir Abdou, the spark of the first African Cup of the Comoros

For the first time in its history, the Comoros archipelago has qualified for the final phase of the CAN (African Cup of Nations). A feat that owes a lot to his coach, Amir Abdou, who patiently built a competitive team, drawing on the vast diaspora.

There are 0-0s that are more emotional than others. That of March 25, 2021, between the Comoros and Togo, is one of them. This goalless draw was synonymous with the first CAN final phase for this small archipelago populated by 870,000 inhabitants, stuck in the warm waters of the Mozambique Channel, in the south-east of Africa. The party is such that the president exceptionally lifts the sanitary measures to allow the country to celebrate the event as it should.

In the middle of the festivities, a man, aged 49, is erected as a national hero: the Franco-Comorian Amir Abdou, breeder since 2014, who patiently led the Coelacanths – a fish living only in the archipelago – around this historic moment.

CAN-2022 local coaches

“It was a lot, a lot of work for years with the staff. It’s a lot of determination, pugnacity. We did not let go,” he savored just after this match.

A miracle signed Abdou

When Amir Abdou arrived on the Comoros bench, the team vegetated at the 198e position in the Fifa ranking (out of 210 in total), a body to which the Comorian federation has only been affiliated since 2005. Since then, the country has climbed in the hierarchy of world football to the point of playing its first African Cup of Nations.

A real miracle! Because, before the arrival of Amir Abdou, the selection was at the bottom of the hole. Eliminated without glory from qualifying for CAN-2012, she had two blank years during which the small nation was forced to forfeit, due to a lack of financial means. The team went two years without playing and then coach Ali Mbaé Camara ended up resigning.

“The federation is then looking for a coach who will understand the Comorian mentalities, capable of working with little means in a young federation. His preference therefore goes to a local coach or in any case African”, recalls Boina Houssamdine, journalist for Comoros Football 269, interviewed by France 24.

The federation then chose Henri Stambouli, a prestigious name passed by OM, as well as by the banks of Guinea and Mali. Amir Abdou, then coach of Golfech (Tarn-et-Garonne), was approached to become an assistant, in particular thanks to the performance of his team during a fifth round of the Coupe de France. His club, in the honor division (the sixth French division), defeats the semi-pros of Luzenac (National, the third division).

However, at the last moment, Henri Stambouli refused the post and Amir Abdou was thrown head coach. This is what is at the origin of the most beautiful story of CAN-2022.

However, Amir Abdou keeps a cool head. At that time, he was almost a volunteer for the Federation of the Comoros, defrayed for his travels and paid at the mission to each of the four or five gatherings of the Coelacanths. The rest of the year, he retains his job as a territorial official in the youth service of the town hall of Bon-Encontre (Lot-et-Garonne), near where he trains.

A team built around the diaspora

Patience, determination, passion. Little by little, Amir Abdou will work to build a competitive workforce for the Comoros. At that time, the selection already consisted of more than 90% of players born and playing in France, the Comorian diaspora being divided between Paris and Marseille. But almost all of them play at best at amateur levels. The Comoros Championship is not even an option:

“He built his team around the diaspora. In the Comoros, local football is not structured and professional enough to constitute a competitive breeding ground,” summarizes journalist Boina Houssamdine. “He worked to meet the Comorians who were playing in the amateur divisions in France as well as the few professionals. He went looking for them, he had to convince them. We had to offer them a project with a complicated historical background.”

The binationals are gradually being convinced by the project. With the support of the historic Kassim Abdallah, captain of the selection since 2007, Amir Abdou disembarks Ali Ahamada (then Toulouse goalkeeper), Djamel Bakar (then in Montpellier) or El Fardou Ben Nabouhane (then in the Olympiakos).

Reinforced, the selection quickly obtained the first results, with in particular a draw against Burkina Faso, recent winner of the CAN-2013, and another draw against Ghana. And a virtuous cycle begins. Convinced by progress, more and more professional Comorian players give in to the advances of the selection.

“Today, we have players who play in the Champions League and the Europa League. Amir Abdou has done a long job,” enthuses Boina Houssamdine.

Amir Abdou waits for 2017 to officially become an employee of the federation. His nascent notoriety also opened the doors of Football Club Nouadhibou in Mauritania in December 2020. A club which dominates the local championship and which competes in the African Champions League.

“The pride of a whole people”

Under the leadership of Amir Abdou, the Comoros won the first official match in their history in March 2016 against Botswana. Then the most beautiful of the qualification campaigns which see them remaining unbeaten for 5 days, ensuring them the qualification in the nose and the beard of Kenya and Togo.

“It was a moment of pride for a whole people. For the first time, the Comoros were going to be at the CAN. It was also a reward for the culmination of fifteen years’ work”, summarizes Boina Houssamdine. “When we talk about the Comoros, it’s never for rewarding things. This qualification is also an opportunity to talk about the Comoros in another way.”

Enough to ensure a place in the local Pantheon for the native of Marseille.

“He is more popular than the president. In the Comoros, we only know our president and artists from the diaspora like Soprano or Rohff. And now, there is Amir Abdou. He has become a model of success for all Comorians. . He has shown that by dint of hard work, we end up getting there, “praises Boina Houssamedine.

And the coach and his team of outsiders arrive in Cameroon with great ambitions, despite an unfavorable draw: the Comoros find themselves in a “group of death” also made up of Gabon, Morocco and Ghana.

“The ambition of the Comoros is to leave the groups to show that we are not here by chance. After each match, it will be a bonus and we hope to be the good story like Madagascar in 2019”, explains journalist Boina Houssamdine . “The other ambition is to prepare the other deadlines and that this first CAN is not the last.”

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