FC Nantes head coach Antoine Kombouaré has paid tribute to the people of New Caledonia after guiding the French Ligue 1 side to cup success over the weekend.
Les Canaris were crowned Coupe de France champions on Sunday after a 1-0 victory over OGC Nice 1-0. It is the fourth time they have won the French domestic cup title and their first silverware in 21 years.
For Kombouaré, it was a fairytale coronation. The 58-year-old was born in Nouméa and began his football education in the New Caledonian capital as a boy with WS Plum Nouméa. In 1983, he made the bold decision to move to France and pursue a professional football career.
There, aged 19, he joined Nantes, remaining at the club for seven years without winning a trophy.
Now, as a manager, he has finally won a cup with the club who gave him his chance in Europe.
The result is even more impressive, considering Nantes only survived relegation from Ligue 1 last season in a play-off fixture against one of Kombouaré’s former teams, Toulouse FC.
Kombouaré, who has also played for and managed Paris Saint-Germain, spoke to the French press once the celebrations had settled.
Speaking of his strong connection with the players, he referenced his New Caledonian heritage and upbringing as being pivotal to his managerial style.
“I love my players deeply,” he said.
“It comes a lot from who I am, where I come from, New Caledonia in the Pacific. For us, we are a family, a clan. When you are part of my family, these are lifelong ties, it goes beyond the field.
“There is a player but, above all, a man, whom I consider my son. All these players are my children. With my children, I am often sure and demanding when they are not doing the job. When they are good, I kiss them and congratulate them.
“These are very simple human relationships.”
Kombouaré went on to explain how he would have exchanged all his previous trophies for this success, praising the club for giving him the chance to live his footballing dreams.
When asked what thoughts were going through his mind as the seconds ticked away in the final few minutes of a tight final, Kombouaré paid tribute to his homeland and family for the role they have played in shaping his footballing career.
“[I thought] to lots of things but especially to my grandparents who raised me. They have always pampered me and supported me.
“They promised me things. We believe in that a lot. They told me I was going to have a good life. The life I have is exceptional.
“I also think a lot about the people of the Pacific, especially the people back home in New Caledonia. It is also their victory. They suffered, they supported me. It’s a way to say thank you.”
Kombouaré, alongside fellow New Caledonia-born ex-Real Madrid and France star Christian Karembeu, recently spoke to the Fédération Calédonienne de Football website about being ambassadors for New Caledonian football and their personal journey’s which you can watch here.