The women’s CAN currently taking place in Morocco is a great opportunity to take the advice of certain experts in women’s football, including Dimitri Lipoff. The French technician gave an exclusive interview to Africa Top Sports. The current Naples women’s coach looked back on her career and gave us her outside eye on the women’s CAN, which is currently taking place in Morocco.
ATS- Journalist: After going through OL and PSG, you went to Russia and then to China, before taking on the main role and committing to Naples this summer. Why did you take so long to lead a women’s section alone?
Dmitri Lipoff: My journey I explain it by the work force and the opportunities. I was able to evolve my career by taking risks I would say. When I left for Russia, I was in the young team of OL, I was a young coach who had just started. I had the opportunity to go to Russia when my wife got pregnant, I accepted this offer in Russia. Not everyone would have done that. After Russia we return to PSG where I spent four years before returning to China. I’m going with my family. Life is made of concessions and these are concessions that are imposed on the family. I have always been the first assistant coach in China.
In fact I was recruited by the Chinese clubs, because every year I won the championship. Three different clubs came to get me and suddenly I had the chance to win the title 5 times in a row but as an assistant. In China when you are an assistant you do a lot of things, even too much.
In Naples it is my first experience as number 1. They came to get me. I had several opportunities including a European national team and an Eastern European club which regularly plays in the Champions League. This opportunity came kind of out of nowhere, it was made to a friend of mine and he couldn’t sign because he was in contract. We can name it Christophe Gamel who worked with me at PSG. Besides, thanks to him I was able to sign in Naples, as he was obliged to refuse the offer, because he was in a boys’ club in Malaysia in D1. Even if the opportunity interested him he had to refuse. He proposed my name and with my CV, we did interviews, it went well and I was invited to come quickly to Napoli and sign at the club.
ATS- Journalist: With your experience and also having worked with several African players. What did you think of this start of CAN?
Dmitri Lipoff: I find the beginning of CAN super interesting, even if it is little watched. It is not surprising for me because the African players I do not know them all, but I know them very well. I have very privileged relations with my former African players. It is a pleasure to watch them to watch them play.
However I follow teams like Zambia, Nigeria and Cameroon. South Africa is the team that disappoints me, but afterwards they are capable of everything too, but they are not my favourite.
ATS-Journalist: Few goals were scored, is it a good thing in your opinion, matches with lower scores in women’s football?
Dmitri Lipoff: I think African football is progressing and getting structured. We give him the means for that and he is able to prove himself on the pitch. The noose is tightening between the teams and that seems to me to be the most important thing.
We are no longer at the time when Nigeria and Cameroon crushed everyone. I find that this development is seen in a positive light. Africa, like everywhere in the world, is taking advantage of and using the enthusiasm for women’s football at the moment and I find that very good. There was a bit of a delay, but they have tremendous potential.
ATS- Journalist: The CAN has gone from 8 to 12 teams, in Europe the competition is played with 16. Do you think that the number of teams should also be increased?
Dmitri Lipoff: I don’t see why we would do differently from what we do in Europe. The CAN must be put forward like the European Cup. It’s a continental cup that we should all play in the same boat, but I think that’s not the case. If there are more teams we give everyone a chance.
Today there are African national teams which deserve to evolve in CAN and which could perform, unfortunately they do not have the opportunity and have no chance of qualifying because they most often fall on big chunks in the playoffs. I think of a nation like Malawi, they have amazing players in that team including two players that I had in my team in China. They make the best attackers in the world. They hold their national team at arm’s length, but if given the opportunity, they would be just as good as Zambia or Cameroon.
Africa is the continent that currently has the greatest potential for women’s football in the world, both for athletes and for competitions.
ATS- Journalist: What did you think of the controversy surrounding Barbara Banda, Oshoala’s injury and Senegal’s covid cases before their match against Morocco?
Dmitri Lipoff: I don’t see why there is controversy over a team that has covid because it can happen to everyone, it happened to PSG and OL, two of the best teams in the world for me. It happened to India during their own Asian Cup, which they organized themselves. They couldn’t finish the competition because of that. It didn’t cause a scandal, but when it happens to Africa it takes another, different turn. It tends to get in the way.
For Asisat Oshoala she is a friend of mine, I am very sad for her and for her country she is a top player in the world. It’s unfortunate for everyone. In addition to being an extraordinary woman, she is an incredible player, hard worker and deserving. We can only be disappointed with his injury.
Barbra Banda, I played against her for two and a half years in China. Indeed, it is incredible to play against her. She is monstrously extraordinary in speed technique. She is above everyone. We actually have a controversy. We can make a polemic of everything and I have the impression that we like to make polemics when it comes to Africa. Barbra Banda if she played in Europe we wouldn’t tell her anything about it, or in Asia, there’s no problem, I can guarantee you. She is a player who is sought for important contracts in China. She is someone who gets in the way, because she is above everyone and she is extraordinary at football. I’m disappointed, it would have been interesting to see her at the CAN. She would have brought her team to the end. If there is a single scandal it is the way she was excluded from the CAN. There are no regulations stating why it was set aside. Now, I don’t know if there is an excess of zeal or a dirty trick from the competitors, but on that I won’t comment. It’s a shame for women’s football and the image of the CAN, a shame for many things. I hated playing against her. She is very difficult to contain, she is a player who is part of the world’s top 10 attackers. All this happened because it is CAN, Zambia. Would we have done that if she was playing for France or for Spain? I’m sure they wouldn’t.
ATS- Journalist: Which team, which players did you particularly like?
Dmitri Lipoff: I don’t want to talk about the team anymore, because I could name too many players. I am less for the individuality than the collective. I preferred to talk more about the team that I like.
I have been with Zambia for almost 3 years, it is a team that has made enormous progress, even if today it is deprived of its best subjects. There are players who have not been called up on the pretext of the same reason [que Barbra Banda].
Zambia have made a lot of progress, although I see they have a lot of tactical shortcomings too. They weren’t bad for the Olympic Games in Tokyo. They managed to show beautiful things I think that in a few years, we will have to count on them.
There is also Morocco which I like, which is trained by a Frenchman. Their evolution is interesting. We have a surprising Cameroon which for me has been sick for a little over a year and a half. They had a rough start, but are waking up. I think Cameroon could make the difference thanks to its experience.
My two favorites are Cameroon and Zambia. Nigeria is ultra solid, it’s experience, they have everything, old and new. Nigeria does not have all its attackers at the CAN. There are some who are currently in China. These are teams with enormous potential. They have really great players.
ATS- Journalist: Which team disappointed you the most?
Dmitri Lipoff: For this CAN I am still positive. I have not seen a team that disappointed me on this CAN.
I see Tunisia, which is still there, it is still alive. I know players in this Tunisian team.
Ultimately I would say that the team that disappointed me the most was South Africa, which for me was the biggest nation in African women’s football and I see them slowly losing this hegemony. I see them falling. I feel them much less. Even if they beat Nigeria in the group stage, it’s still nothing. I found South Africa so much above before, than now. I find them much closer to other nations now. For me it was the African team that stood out, now it’s less the case.
Interview conducted by Dounia MESLI for Africatopsports