‘Missing France World Cup has shaped my career’
Forest coach Lamouchi has used omission from 1998 France squad to drive him on, he tells John Percy
It is more than 21 years now since Aime Jacquet broke the news to the six members of his provisional France squad, who would play no part in their historic home World Cup finals. One of those left on the outside was Sabri Lamouchi, the new Nottingham Forest head coach, and that moment, at the team’s Clairefontaine base late one Friday night, has stayed with him his whole life.
We are talking in his office at a club with an extraordinary history of their own, although less so in recent times, when the turnover of managers makes Lamouchi the 13th permanent appointment in eight years.
Lamouchi, 47, is of Tunisian heritage, a thoughtful man who has managed the Ivory Coast, Rennes, and the Qatar club El Jaish after a playing career at some of the biggest clubs in France and Italy. His first name derives from the Arabic word sabr, which means “patience” – a commodity that has been in short supply at Forest in recent years, and he has seen a lot in football.
That feeling of desolation in 1998, when he was denied a place in French history, has shaped his career for the two decades that have followed.
“It is the worst memory of my professional life,” he says. “For almost three years it was so difficult for me. It’s not like a bad injury or something but for a long time it felt like an injustice.
“When you play for the national team you want to play in the World Cup, especially when it’s in your own country.
“I deserved to play at the World Cup. You can complain but,
‘They can sack me before one year, but I want to try and do it my way with my players’
fortunately, I put it behind me. It made me stronger.”
What happened that day taught Lamouchi much about managing players on a personal level, after taking his first job with the Ivory Coast in 2012. “My door is always open and I can talk to everybody face to face. Sometimes to say the truth is not good, but it’s much better for the future. My advantage is that I was a player before, so I know their thinking,” he says.
“This is now my second life. From the first year of playing professionally, I wanted to be a manager. I knew that 20 years ago. I was always curious as to why the coach wanted to do certain things.”
An industrious and intelligent midfielder – he describes Zinedine Zidane as “a magician” and the best player he ever played alongside – Lamouchi’s journey to Forest has been an unpredictable one, but he considers this job in the Championship as a huge honour.
He was announced as head coach in June, 18 minutes after the dismissal of Martin O’neill, and it has been a whirlwind two-and-ahalf months.
Lamouchi freely admits that taking the job, after so much recent turbulence, was a gamble. The longest-serving of those managers since the summer of 2011 is Billy Davies [in his second spell] at just over 13 months.
“I know the reputation of the club and how many managers they have had, so why should it be different for me? When you sign for one year, you take the risk,” he says. “My passion is my job, and I could have gone somewhere else to have it really easy. They can sack me before one year [is up], but I want to try and do it my way with my team and my players.
“You need stability to put down your philosophy. I know it will be very difficult but give me the time.
“My wife will still live in France and the children are also in schools there. I prefer to take the risk alone. Maybe, in the future, I hope they will join me, because that will obviously be positive [for me]. I want to make a full year, because that has been so rare here.”
Lamouchi’s start has been impressive: Forest are unbeaten in seven matches and his popularity soared after a 3-0 win over rivals Derby County in the EFL Cup.
There is already a song on the terraces – to the tune of Haddaway’s What Is Love – and earlier this month he was warmly greeted by a few enthusiastic Forest fans at Gatwick airport.
He is living in the city centre and genuinely excited about playing a part in the club’s future: photographs of the proposed
In the hot seat: Sabri Lamouchi believes he will need time and stability to achieve success at Nottingham Forest