Africa Cup of Nations: Côte d’Ivoire’s Gervinho sees bright future for new generation
As his Côte d’Ivoire team-mates stepped up to take their penalties in the Afcon final, he sat on a plastic chair by the dugout facing the main stand rather than the pitch, his face a stunned picture of tense exhaustion. Only the noise and reactions around him told him that Les Elephants were edging closer to a 9-8 shoot-out victory over Ghana.
This time around, he’s a more willing spectator on the sidelines. The former Arsenal and Roma forward, now playing for Hebei China Fortune, is out of the tournament with an injury but has still travelled to Gabon to watch them defend their title.
“In terms of not watching the penalties, it was the stress that made me do it,” he tells The Africa Report ahead of Côte d’Ivoire’s opening Group C match in Oyem, the site of Gabon’s newest stadium. “But the most important thing after all was to win the Afcon.”
“[This tournament] is not my first Afcon, it’s my sixth Afcon so it’s disappointing [to be injured] but I’m still staying positive in my mind. I’ve already experienced many great things. I’m still always Ivorian, I’m still with my teammates, I’m hoping that everything goes really well. Normally of course I prefer to be on the pitch but it’s been decided [by God] to be otherwise.”
Les Elephants boast a new crop of promising players in defence and midfield, led by Eric Bailly, Franck Kessie and Jean Seri.
“They’re young players with talent. They have the future before them. For this Afcon they can show to the Ivory Coast supporters and Africa that they have quality.”
When asked about the 2015 final, in which Ivory Coast ended their long and painful wait for another title, his first thought is of goalkeeper Boubacar Barry. “The great memory was the faith of the goalkeeper, he brought the score back to 2-2 [with a save in the shoot-out] and then he scored [himself] so there you go. He’s a goalkeeper who has a lot of courage, he’s lived through a lot of disappointment with Ivory Coast and that’s a great memory.”
Gervinho is confident that there is enough in the squad to succeed without him, not least after Premier League star Wilfried Zaha, who lived in Abidjan until the age of four, made the decision to choose Côte d’Ivoire over England.
“It’s great to see players who choose to pay for their country of origin”, he says. “It’s never an easy decision. But when they take it either for themselves or their team-mates we’re happy to see that. Even though we play in the same position, it’s not a problem. It’s better to have too many solutions than not enough solutions. So were happy that he’s with us.”
As for his own future, Gervinho has no plans to follow the Toure brothers into international retirement. “I want to play at the World Cup and the next Nations Cup. I promise we’ll see each other in Cameroon [in 2019].”