The five star Tiba Rosa Plaza Hotel is located on El Moushir Tantawy Spine, 5th Compound, New Cairo, right next to the 30 June Stadium, also known as the Air Defense Stadium, where Group ‘C’ matches of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations are being held.
The hotel, located in a newly constructed section of the sprawling Egyptian capital city – home to over 19 million people, is a magnificent six-storey edifice.
A wide network of roads leads into and out of New Cairo. It is clear there is a well thought out government plan in all these constructions but even with the comprehensive infrastructure you can see the brown parchment of the desert and feel its oppressive heat, amplified by the summer season.
The setting would be hot for an interview with Kenya coach Sebastien Migne. For some reason he has held a grudge against the Nation unhappy with East Africa’s largest circulating paper’s coverage of Harambee Stars.
Migne revealed his displeasure at the second official team pre-match press conference held at 30 June stadium on Wednesday by blatantly refusing to answer a question by this scribe.
“Congratulations on your win against Tanzania,” the journalist tried again at the post-match press conference after Migne had secured a vital victory in their Group ‘C’ match on Thursday.
“I am not sure that you are sincere,” the Frenchman retorted but this time when a question was posed he obliged with an answer.
Requesting an interview with Migne here in Cairo would likely be treated negatively, and none has been sought.
But you are taught in journalism school that there are different kind of interviews, from one-on-one sessions, telephone call and even press conferences where the subject replies to your queries or those posed by others.
An attempt is made here to glean and pick the brains of the Frenchman who has elicited so much reaction from Kenyans. Indeed, the country has followed his every move since his appointment 11 months ago as a relatively unknown coach at the senior level.
“I am a dreamer,” Migne said in one of his interviews with Nation Sport before the 2019 Afcon began.
“When I took up this job, everybody told me I was completely crazy. You will play against Sierra Leone, you we will meet Ghana. It will be very difficult, they said."
It is not easy to understand Migne. One time he will talk positively about a player only to leave him out of his plans. Another time he will be bullish only to call for caution. Another time he will wonder loudly why his players did not play to the level he expected of them. And he will pass judgement on journalists on the basis of the questions asked.
Perhaps it is simply the pressure of the job. The Frenchman is eager to make his mark in Africa as a number of his illustrious compatriots have done – Rodger Lemerre, Claude LeRoy, who Migne worked under and confesses is his mentor, and latterly, Herve Renard.
Migne, born 46 years ago in La Roche-Sur-Yon, France, was appointed on May 3, 2018 to little fanfare, when Kenya’s 2019 Afcon campaign had already started on a wrong footing following a 2-1 loss to Sierra Leone.
At that time, the Harambee Stars coaching job was one of the hottest. Coaches were coming and going. Migne’s predecessor Belgian Paul Put lasted only three months despite winning the 2017 Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup.
Local boy Stanley Okumbi had two inauspicious stints with the Stars between 2016 and 2018, and before him the rough Belgian Adel Amrouche and Scottish gentleman Bobby Williamson had also occupied the hot seat.
Anybody who took up the Stars job would indeed be considered crazy, but Migne seemed to be seeing something more positive.
“There is potential here. We need to develop that,” he simply said.
That potential was seen in the way Frenchman steadied the ship in the qualifiers, first stunning giants Ghana 1-0 in Nairobi, holding Ethiopia to a barren draw in Awassa before crushing them 3-0 in the reverse fixture in Nairobi. Suddenly, every Stars fan was dreaming of glory.
When the team lost by a solitary goal, scored late, late in the match against Ghana in Accra on March 23 in their last qualifier match, there was palpable disappointment in Kenya. Under normal circumstances this result would have been respectable for Harambee Stars, but things had changed.
Kenyans wanted more and the pressure on the coach has been relentless, demanding Kenyan fans closely following his every move, analysing his every selection and judging his every tactic.
This was amplified after the team secured an Afcon ticket.
But Migne is quick to set the record straight: “When I signed the deal with the (FKF) president it was to try and qualify the team for the 2021 Afcon.”
The fact though is that he has made that journey two years earlier than pledged, becoming only the sixth man to guide the country to the African finals.
And the stars seemed to have aligned for him. He delivered an African qualification, got the best possible preparations in a three-week training camp in France and never suffered any player unrest over the familiar unpaid dues demands as there was none even as fans criticised the decision to go to Europe rather than North Africa or the Middle East.
“We did not push the French Embassy to have visas to be tourists in France and continue the trip in Egypt,” he said on the eve of their departure to Europe.
Will the team get out of the group stage for the first time in the tournament’s history? They are in Group C together with Senegal, Algeria and Tanzania.
Migne was pragmatic.
On Algeria he said: “We know the level of Algeria. They have participated in the World Cup. We looked at their squad and the name of their players and we know we have to watch out for them. We will see.”
A docile Kenya saw Algeria put two past them without reply eliciting this famous quote from Migne: after the match: “I accept to lose but not this way. I accept to lose but not the way we played in the first half.”
The pressure of the Kenyan job was telling as Migne sought to find answers.
“We need experience for this kind of tournament. We were afraid. We have four days to bring hope to the fans. We need to find a solution.” Next up was Tanzania.
To be fair to the Kenyan team, they did not have their preferred central back pairing of Brian Mandela and Joash Onyango, who were both out injured.
Migne consequently changed the starting side for their key match against Taifa Stars on Thursday. He blooded two players, Sofapaka’s John Avire, whose selection has been a major talking point and Bernard Ochieng of Vihiga United.
A resilient Kenya came from behind twice to win 3-2 in a match that was not for one with a weak heart.
For the first time since the tournament started a bright smile split open Migne’s face. He had been vindicated for picking the squad he had and achieving one of the milestones he has repeatedly pointed out: Kenya winning a match at the Afcon in which there was a stake.
That win meant Kenya were still in the running for a round of 16 berth and had claimed only their second victory at this level.
You could sense the emotions in Migne, like wanting the Kenyan public to understand him, to believe in his project, to let him just do his work: “My players gave me an answer. And we showed it was good and not just from the first 11. Today it was difficult for some players. It was the same with Algeria. But as a team we can compete. As a team, everything is possible."
“I am not afraid to put young players on the field. Sometimes coaches are afraid to do this. I worked nine years with Claude (Le Roy); one thing I remember he taught me is to play offensively and to play young players. And today (Thursday) was a good answer for that.”
Incidentally, Le Roy, who won the 1988 Cup of Nations with Cameroon and also coached Ghana and Togo at the Afcon was in the stadium on the day.
A good result against Senegal in their final group match on Monday may very well see Migne’s Kenya playing in the knockout stages for the first time in history.
The Frenchman though says there will be nothing to lose for Kenya in this fixture.
Before the tournament he had said this of the meeting with the Teranga Lions: “We have the number one team in Africa. It will be fantastic to play them. It will be difficult but it will be an opportunity to test the qualities of my players and those of Senegal.”
And in the midst of dark clouds Migne went on to paint a silver lining.
“We will try to perform well and send a message. Maybe we have the best team in Africa. Maybe not. I hope we have. I hope so. We played against Ghana, one of the top four nations in Africa and we had a good result. We showed some qualities on the pitch. What we need to do is challenge the players to show their qualities and capabilities.”
The Frenchman, went back to his recent history when he was the assistant to Le Roy with Congo Republic at the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations, for inspiration.
“We reached the quarter-finals. We had no star in a country of four million. We topped our group and were 20 minutes away from qualifying for the semi-finals.”
Kenya are on the brink of securing a historic knockout spot and in a way Migne has surpassed the performance of the last five Kenyan expeditions to Africa.
But will he gain any hero status? He has had an obdurate stand on team selection, condescending attitude towards the Kenyan media, or certainly a part of it and reluctance to listen to other voices outside the federation.
Three weeks ago he said: “I will try to guide the national team to the knockout stage. We need the fans to be positive. I know something good will happen.
“We are on the road and can dream. It will be fantastic for the country to qualify for the knockout stage. Zambia won the African title after many years of trying. It is possible. This is football.”
Many in Kenya are waiting to celebrate his Afcon fall or feat. Yes, this is football.