If you can cast your mind back to January and the start of this year’s busy calendar of international football, you will remember how Cote d’Ivoire’s national team finally ended their country’s long wait for a second AFCON title in Equatorial Guinea.
But whilst this African football powerhouse celebrated a well-deserved victory over their local neighbours Ghana in the showpiece final, I am sure that as a fan of football you will also fondly remember the performance of one of the tournament’s surprise packages, DR Congo, who were also celebrating their best tournament performance since 1998 as they secured third-place in the competition.
DR Congo’s performance was undoubtedly one of the 2015 AFCON’s feel-good stories. Having gone through a barren period of failing to qualify for three successive tournaments between 2008 and 2012, they embarked on the 2015 competition with a squad which had just over a third of its players still playing their domestic football in Africa and twelve players who had played in fewer than 10 senior international matches.
Under the leadership of Florent Ibengé, who was just one of three native coaches to lead their own nations during the tournament, they came through the group stages unbeaten before staging one of the greatest comebacks in the tournament’s history by coming back from two goals down in the quarter-finals to beat Congo-Brazzaville 4-2.
With players of the calibre of Yannick Bolasie providing the flair alongside a clinical strike pairing of Dieumerci Mbokani and Jeremy Bokila, whose goals were celebrated by veteran goalkeeper Robert Kidiaba in his own unique style, this DR Congo team quickly became a favourite of fans and professionals alike.
But whilst the players undoubtedly delivered the goods on the pitch, what was probably less known at the time was the extensive work that had been put in by the backroom team to prepare for each of their tournament matches.
One of the initiatives they made was to ask Scout7 to provide detailed analysis on each of their opponents, both in advance of and during the competition. As a result, Ibengé and his staff received extensive dossiers compiled by Scout7’s Consultancy division, which documented formations and tactical summaries, attacking and defensive patterns of play, key strengths and weaknesses, both individually and collectively and detailed individual player analysis. These were supplemented by extensive video analysis, which was used to visually demonstrate the key findings.
They also asked us if we could produce motivational videos as they advanced during the competition, which we were more than happy to do, which were played at team meetings and in the dressing room before each game.
After the competition, this support was praised publically by the DR Congo FA Chairman Constant Omari and subsequently we were invited by the Congolese Player Union, the UFC, to travel out to Kinshasa and hold an education seminar for coaches working across domestic football in the country.
As a result, at the end of April I travelled out to the country’s capital, accompanied by Cédric Tafforeau, who now works as a football analytics expert on the Canal+ TV show ‘La Data Room’ after previously spending several years working as a performance analyst with the first team at Olympique Marseille. Together, we arranged a three day workshop for Congolese coaches which focused on technical and tactical analysis, scouting management and internal administration of player information, focusing primarily on Academy players.
The main objective of the seminar was to introduce the coaches to practices which are now commonplace across European club football, which could also be applied in Africa as domestic IT and internet infrastructures continue to develop.
Cédric went into great detail about the analysis he prepared for AFCON, where he not only talked about his key findings but also how he went about presenting his findings to the coaching staff, so that it was easy for them to understand each point and then apply it to their preparation. The audience were very impressed by the depth of his knowledge and many of the coaches spoke to us afterwards about the appreciation they now had for how video analysis can assist them ahead of key matches. He also showed them the Pro.tv video and editing tools used to prepare his clips.
I also talked about the importance of building a database of information on players, not only for scouting purposes, but also for monitoring the development of your own players. This is relevant not only for club teams, but also for Federations too, who need to monitor their national team players on a regular basis. DR Congo have players playing domestic football all across Europe, who can potentially be monitored by the coaching staff in Kinshasa using video, as well as by staff based in Europe who can submit reports into a private online database.
To highlight this point I demonstrated how the Scout7 Intelligent Sports Framework can support a club or federation with the management of reports, video analysis and all other aspects of regular player monitoring, which also includes the monitoring of domestic football in a central, consolidated environment. As well as men’s coaches, representatives working with the DR Congo women’s teams also attended the seminar, who all recognised the benefits of overseeing all aspects of football in the country in one place.
Given that as recently as five years ago, DR Congo were struggling to stay in the top 100 of the FIFA rankings, what struck me during my trip was how determined the country is to adopt best practices to help ensure their national teams consistently perform to a high level on the world stage. It is easy to forget how hugely competitive African football is – for example there are only seven places available for qualifiers at each CAF tournament played at U20 and U17 level, which are held every two years, so it is incredibly difficult to give young players experience of major international tournaments.
Given that an African team has reached the final of three of the last four FIFA U17 World Cups, it would suggest that there is plenty of rich talent being developed by academies across the continent. So I hope that if Federations like DR Congo can successfully implement an infrastructure that allows them to monitor all their players, young and old, at every stage of the season, then they are giving themselves every chance of consistently achieving on-field success.