“My players have to hate to lose”

The Kehrweg Stadium had never before hosted a media contingent like the one attending the presentation of new coach Claude Makelele on 7th November. About 50 journalists, including 9 television crews, crowded around KAS Eupen’s new head coach. The modest appearance of Claude Makelele stood in stark contrast with the hustle and bustle of his first day at work. He is fully aware that his mission to retain KAS Eupen’s place in the Pro League by avoiding relegation constitutes an exciting task and a significant challenge. In this interview for the AS-Journal and KAS Eupen’s homepage, Claude Makelele reported on his first working week in Eupen.  

You have been conducting your first training sessions at KAS Eupen for more than a week now – what are your initial impressions?

They are very good. The welcome was exceptional, firstly from the managers, but then also from the players. They were very responsive. The first thing I did was to take stock of everything. This is critical when a new coach arrives. And I noticed that there were a lot of things that were wrong. There was a lack of professional commitment in certain areas, so I had to get certain things back on track. On the other hand, I also saw that there was a lot of will and a lot of energy. I have remodelled the system, which was not direct enough, and I think the players have grasped my message.

What was this message? 

It is very clear and simple. We must do everything to avoid this club being relegated from the top league. This is the most important task, not only for the club, but also for the players, because it is much more interesting for them to develop as far as possible. The club has put in a lot of effort to make progress and reach the D1, and it would be a shame not to make use of this opportunity. It is with this in mind that I spoke to the players, because everything depends on their performances and their results. I explained to them that they must understand that it is their job, that everyone must work and that there are rules that must be respected. In my experience I can say that without rules, there is no stability. And I will insist on this every single day, so that my message gets through. Players need to understand that this is not a form of punishment, because ultimately, everyone is involved and will benefit from it. I want to give my players space to express themselves, but they have to understand that although football is fun, it is still a job. They have an incredible chance to pursue this profession and the strict minimum is to give 100%, show courage and support one’s team mates. And that applies to everyone, not just to those who play … everyone has to give 100%.

The club has brought you on board for the medium or even long term, but the first mission remains avoiding relegation from the Pro League.  How do you feel about this goal?

I have seen that we have the quality, and I am confident that we can do everything possible to stay in the top flight. I have met with receptive players who understand that they also have their share of responsibility for everything that happens. That’s why we’ve been able to get down to work from the moment I first arrived. And I have very positive impressions of my first week of work here in Eupen. It is in this spirit that must continue. But I repeat: we have the quality and the players give 100%. There are just a few adjustments to make, and  we will be able to show improvement on a daily basis in order to prepare for competitions and especially to lift ourselves up from this section of the ranking.

Eupen is still currently in last place – do you feel that this weighs the team down?

Of course it weighs the team down. It weighs on performance, the lives of players, in the club and even in the city. But as long as everyone stays positive and pulls in the same direction, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Obviously we do not have much time, because we only have 16 games left.

KAS Eupen’s main problem is the considerable number of goals conceded. Do you already have a plan to remedy this? 

No, there is no plan and we can’t hope for a miracle. The only solution is to work, provide players with in-depth instructions and practice them in training every day, so that they know how to apply them during games. Because there comes a point when I am no longer with them on the pitch and it’s up to the players to take responsibility. But we’ve worked on this every day so as to be well prepared for the game. And I will support my players at all times, even when the going gets tough.

Can we expect changes in the composition of the team or in the positioning of players?

We probably need more work in order to enhance our balance on the pitch, but I will make absolutely sure that there are changes in attitude. Because it’s attitude that will allow us to improve.

On Saturday night, you will take charge of your first game for KAS Eupen. What are you expectations for the game against Antwerp?

My expectations are clear: we must win every single home game, because this is where we are our strongest. So, we will do all we can to get a positive result and especially to gain in confidence. We can no longer afford to lose games with scores that are unacceptable for a coach. My players must refuse to lose, they must hate to lose. This means that everyone has to be on the same page. Of course, there will be some games we lose – that’s football, this sport that we all live and breathe. But the message is: work, work, work, because hard work always pays off. And no matter whether we win or lose, I will be content with my players if they have given 100%. I want them to come off the pitch satisfied that they have given their all.

Will you be nervous before the match?

No, why? You have to enjoy it  – that’s why I love football and I love my job. Excited, yes, but not anxious.

What attracted you to Eupen?

It is the project that interests me, because it implies continuity. Eupen is a very stable club that believes in its coaches and has talented players who I can help to develop. That’s what motivated me.

During your press conference, you talked about the DNA of the Eupen region, DNA that you want to absorb. Where do you live, and what are your impressions? 

Eupen is a quiet, calm place and a very nice town where people are welcoming. They already say hello in the street and they talk to me. I enjoy that. These are the best conditions in which to get on with work calmly. I’m staying in a hotel at the moment, but I’m looking for a house to rent so that I can have a genuine living experience in the area.