Seychelles players beg time off work to face Nigeria

Colin UdohSpecial to ESPN5 Minute Read
Benoit Stenio Steve Marie plays for Seychelles for free, as do all the national team players.Bechir Ramzy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

International football management presents its fair share of problems, but few managers will have to deal with Seychelles coach Gavin Jeanne's unique brand of challenges.

Jeanne, who is preparing his team for a 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Nigeria on Saturday, has to contend with players missing training sessions because they have not been fully released to the national team by their employers.

No, not clubs. Ordinary, regular day jobs.

The majority of Jeanne's squad are only moonlighting as football players. The rest of the time, they are out earning a regular living like everyone else. And they often cannot get time off to represent their country.

"We have all sorts of jobs among the players," Jeanne tells KweséESPN. "It will be difficult for me to tell you all of them. I know we have drivers, masons, a stevedore [dock worker], a tourist guide, people who do causal labour. Everything."

Here are some examples. Defender Bertrand Esther, Seychelles' most outstanding footballer of 2017, is a driver. Winger Colin Bibi is a messenger at Mahe Shipping. Dave Mussard is a pastry chef with Hotel Patatran on La Digue Island.

The squad earn a combined average of around 9000 rupees a month. That is about $635 per month. By comparison, Nigeria forward Odion Ighalo's $245 000 a week at Chanching Yatai in China means he could probably pay the entire Seychelles team for their time this weekend.

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While it would be expected that employers would be happy to give their staff time off to go represent their country, that is not the case with some Seychellois employers. And so this motley collection of worker-footballers is taking its own special toll on Jeanne's preparation for the game in Victoria.

"We are trying to prepare as much as we can. It has been a little bit difficult for us because our players need to go to work before they come for training," he says.

"The players did not get released from work. Some of them are from the other islands. We train in the morning, they go to work and come back in the afternoon.

"Some of them cannot make it to the morning session because they have to take the flight at 5am so it is quite difficult. But we are quite used to it so we have to manage as much as we can."

As if juggling work and wearing national team colours weren't hard enough, the players are doing this purely out of patriotic fervour, without significant recompense, says Jeanne.

What do they get paid, anyway? Jeanne says: "Nothing. They do not get paid anything. We just get small training allowance. Not much. We play for our national team for free."

A far cry from the opposition Super Eagles, who will each get $5000 if they win, with their coach Gernot Rohr getting double that.

Changchun Yatai's Odion Ighalo is Nigeria's top scorer this season, across all leagues globally.XIN LI/Getty Images

None of that is giving Jeanne, who is taking his second stab at the job of managing this team after his first stint in 2012, any sleepless nights.

If anything, he is excited: "We have nothing to lose. But they cannot lose against us. For us, we are excited. No intimidation. We want to play them.

"Nigeria is the biggest football nation in Africa. It is going to be the biggest population in Africa against the smallest one. We are looking forward to facing them. We want to enjoy it, have some fun, and try to get a result out of it.

"If it doesn't work in our favour it will be a big experience for the players and for the country itself. Because this is the biggest game ever in Seychelles. Win or lose we want to learn.

"For the players, it is an opportunity to showcase their ability on the global stage because we know the game will be broadcast across the world."

Seychelles, like Nigeria, lost their opening game of the series, pummelled 5-1 by Libya. But while the Super Eagles, who suffered a 2-0 home loss to South Africa, are looking to bounce back from that setback and make it to the finals in Cameroon next year, Seychelles are tempering their own ambitions.

Jeanne continues: "We do not think that far [to Cameroon]. All we thing about is the next game. We do not think about the Afcon. We face this game. After that, it is the next game. We just want to win the next game.

"And so my expectations is for my players to give their best. For them to prove that they can play with the best in the world and maybe some scout will see them.

"If they give it their best shot, give all their commitment in that game, I will be very happy."

Imagine if he were to claim a win. Just imagine.