Assistant coach Michel Pont tells swissinfo of his hopes for the football World Cup, ahead of Switzerland's first game, against former champions France, on Tuesday.
Pont, who comes from Geneva, has been the right-hand man of Swiss manager Köbi Kuhn for five years. He discusses the team as well as his relationship with the players.
When he accepted the position of assistant coach to the national football team in 2001, Pont never thought he would one day experience a European Championship or reach the 2006 World Cup.
After reaching the last 16 at Euro 2004 in Portugal, Pont hopes the young Swiss squad - for whom he has great admiration - can repeat the feat in Germany.
swissinfo: What does it mean to you to be at the World Cup?
Michel Pont: I feel above all a great sense of pride. It's a big honour for me to be assistant coach. Köbi Kuhn and I have spent the past five years trying to get the best out of Swiss football and the rich diversity of its cultures. This characteristic gives us a potential which we really believe in.
Taking part in a World Cup is so rare that I try to savour every second. Since Euro 2004, I know how hard it is to really experience an event and to take in the magic as it really happens.
swissinfo: Did you hesitate before taking the job?
M.P.: Not for a fraction of a second! To employ the services of a French-speaking assistant – not necessarily me! – was Köbi's first big decision. His instinct told him he should have someone who speaks French at his side to bridge the famous [language and cultural] divide inherent in all Swiss projects – whether they involve sport, politics or culture.
swissinfo: Where did you go from there?
M.P.: We asked considerable sacrifices from our players. If they are today playing in big European clubs, it is because of their talent and their will – but also because of the structures from which they benefited when they were young. We therefore wanted to make them aware of their responsibilities and asked them to give something back to Swiss football.
This message didn't sink in immediately. I remember in particular when we got beaten 3-1 by Canada in June 2002. Playing for the national team meant nothing to the players. We really were on the edge – Köbi's theories on family spirit, personal investment and group dynamics just weren't getting through.
Certain players had egos that simply couldn't be accommodated in a group. Today there are no longer cliques or divas in the team. Our targets have risen such that we need an unwavering spirit to reach them.
swissinfo: So all the national players are best mates?
M.P.: I think it's fair to say that they are people who value and get pleasure from approaching and trying to reach fixed goals together. They are prepared to get completely involved. Everyone here believes in Köbi Kuhn's philosophy – they have all chosen to go on this journey.
It's important to understand that we can't change the technique of those players who are selected. The manager's aim is to succeed in creating a coherent and efficient "puzzle" with the various pieces.
swissinfo: What is your relationship with the players?
M.P.: It's on two levels. Above all I consider the players to be professionals, which entails adopting exemplary behaviour and investing themselves totally in the team.
There is also however an enormous amount of affection between everyone – we make no secret of that. We sincerely are fond of these players and believe in them.
swissinfo: How far can Switzerland go in the World Cup?
M.P.: There is an enormous weight of expectation on this team. The pressure is palpable. The country is behind us and our aim is to get past the first round [finish in the top two in their group, which also includes France, Togo and South Korea – something the bookmakers expect them to do].
After that, anything is possible. Over 90 minutes we can beat anyone given a bit of luck. One thing is certain: we're going to make sure we don't have any regrets.
swissinfo: What will you be doing during the final?
M.P.: Hopefully sitting in the dugout! Maybe that's slightly idealistic – I'm keeping my feet on the ground and I know perfectly well what our strengths and weaknesses are. But if we somehow make it to the final... well, that would be a crowning moment – not for me, but for the young, optimistic and enthusiastic group of players who have been given the right to dream.
swissinfo-interview: Mathias Froidevaux
Switzerland in the World Cup:
1934 in Italy: Beaten 3-2 by Czechoslovakia in the quarter-finals
1938 in France: Defeated 2-0 by Hungary in the quarter-finals
1950 in Brazil: Eliminated in the group stage
1954 in Switzerland: Defeated 7-5 by Austria in the quarter-finals
1962 in Chile: Eliminated in the group stage
1966 in England: Eliminated in the group stage
1994 in the United States: Defeated 3-0 by Spain in the last 16.
Michel Pont was born in 1954, the first and last time Switzerland hosted the World Cup.
As a player he won promotion to the top Swiss division with Carouge in 1977, but his career was ended by an injury when he was 25-years-old.
Two years later he began his career as a manager with FC Perly in the second division.
He went on to manage Grand-Lancy, Chênois, Etoile Carouge, Servette and Lugano.
When Köbi Kuhn was chosen as manager of the national team in 2001, Pont was picked as his assistant.
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