Jonathan Pitroipa: The Burkina Faso Star On The Stallions, Knock-Outs and Emerging Stars

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In the first part of PUMA Football's interview with Jonathan Pitroipa, the explosive Rennes winger explains why he believes Burkina Faso will get past the group stage of the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time, and warns the footballing world to watch out for the Traore brothers: Alain of Auxerre and teenager Bertrand. 

This will be your second African tournament having already appeared two years ago. How much does it mean to you to go back to Africa to play in this competition?

I think it’s a good thing. The Nations Cup is very different to Europe in terms of atmosphere. Africa is totally different. It’s always interesting to have the chance to play for your country in Africa and to witness the supporters who are happy to see us playing. So for me it’s a very positive experience.

Last time you played in Angola. The 2012 edition is in West Africa which means there could me more supporters travelling from Burkina Faso.

It’s true that Gabon and Equatorial Guinea is closer to Burkina Faso. I believe that the authorities back home are organising trips for our supporters to come. They could help us to go a bit further because the presence of the fans is always important. The atmosphere in Africa is very different. In Europe it’s more structured. Here the fans come with the aim of creating an atmosphere. There’s always a lot of music and singing, and they really try to push the team forwards. Every country has different songs and a different way of supporting the team, so it makes for a very different atmosphere to what we see in Europe.

The football is taken seriously but it feels more like a party sometimes…

That’s it. It’s a party atmosphere. The fans come to the tournament to have a party and to have fun, as well as supporting their team. The people love football and they want to push their teams as far as possible. They’re there for their teams but also to have fun.

Burkina didn’t get through the group stage in Angola. What are you chances of progressing this time around?

In 2010 we had trouble getting out of the group. But at the same time we were in a tough group with the Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Togo, although unfortunately Togo couldn’t participate after the incident in Cabinda. We did our best. We played well in the first match and got a draw with the Côte d’Ivoire. It was hard against Ghana, but we saw they had a very good team and they went all the way to the final. Our aim is to get out of the group this time. The fact we have qualified for two finals in a row is encouraging but now we want to show our supporters that we are progressing. They want us to get through the group stage and they have confidence in us. Everyone knows there is a good group of young players in Burkina at the moment. We work hard together and have a bright future. It’s up to us to fight now and to prove we can go a long way.

Your results have been superb in qualifying. Confidence must be high?

It’s true. We have a stable team and our confidence has grown. You could see in recent matches, we are more comfortable in possession and we feel we can win the game at any moment. We approach every game in the same way, treating our opponents with respect whoever they are. We give our best in every game and the results have been positive. We know things will be tougher at the Nations Cup, but we have to treat the games in the same way and remain focused. We’ve got the Côte d’Ivoire in our group once more. We know it’ll be a difficult game, but we’ll give everything we’ve got to qualify this time.

The first game is against Angola. Do you feel like you have to get three points given that the next fixture is against the Elephants?

Yes, I do. So much is riding on the first game. It’s really important to start the tournament with a win because that gives you confidence. The first game will be hard because we have to win it in order to be in a good position, but at the same time we don’t know the Angola team very well. They showed their quality when they were hosts two years ago. They have some skilful players, they try to score goals, and they try to play good football.

Several Burkina players play in France. One man who is having an exceptional season in Ligue 1 is Auxerre midfielder Alain Traore. Could he emerge as one of the stars of the tournament?

Yes, of course. Everyone has seen his quality. He could become a really great player. I think he’ll give everything at the Nations Cup and try to show the quality he has been showing in France. I think he’ll fight for us like he has been for Auxerre. He’ll bring the team a lot with his set pieces, his vision and his shooting. He scores a lot of goals. It’s a real plus for us to have him and I hope he’ll be on form. What Alain Traore is doing at the moment is extraordinary and I think he can keep on improving.

Is there a lesser known player you could tell us about who might do well?

I think Alain Traore’s little brother (Bertrand) who has spent some time with Chelsea. He’s only 17, I think, but he has been picked and he has a lot of quality. He is a bit young still but if we manage to go a long way and if he gets the chance to play then he might surprise people. He’s very talented and is definitely one to watch out for in the future.