Pascal Chimbonda had just started his coaching career with a non-league team that had lost 15 of its first 16 league games and was now tasked with saving them from relegation.
But if he insists that once he sets his mind to something, he can’t be stopped, he need only look at his own career for evidence of this.
“When France won the World Cup in 1998, I was living in the Caribbean,” began Guadeloupe-born Chimbonda, a member of the 2006 French team that reached the final.
“I was watching it with my family and I said to my mother Francina: ‘Look, we’re watching this game now, one day you’ll see me on TV and you’ll see me too.’
“And it happened eight years later, with some of the same players as in 1998. In 1998 I wasn’t even a professional footballer. Do you see how fast it can happen?’
Pascal Chimbonda won his first game as manager at Skelmersdale United 4-1, giving new hope to the youth players in the ninth tier
The Wigan cult hero says he has “never had anything easy” and says he wants to “open the door” for other black coaches.
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Skelmersdale United, bottom of the North West Counties Premier Division, English football’s ninth tier, are hoping for a quick turnaround with former Premier League defender Chimbonda at the helm.
Victory in its first league game last week, a 4-1 win over league leaders Barndoldswick Town, was an ideal start.
And the 44-year-old’s path to professional football should be further encouragement given his predicament.
“I like challenges. “My life has always been about challenge,” Chimbonda said. “I’ve never had anything easy.”
Chimbonda only joined an academy when he was 18 and had to leave the Caribbean and his family behind to get this chance at French club Le Havre.
Back in Guadeloupe, the weather was nice – “it’s about 35 degrees every day,” Chimbonda smiled – but the football structure that could make his dreams come true didn’t really exist.
He played with his brothers and their friends rather than in a professional formation and only trained and played once a week.
Chimbonda then had to fight his way through a tryout against 200 other hopefuls to impress a scout who had a one-time ticket to Europe for just one player.
The former Tottenham star only joined an academy when he was 18 and played once a week
He developed into an established Premier League footballer and reached the 2006 World Cup final with France
When he arrived in France, the Caribbean standout Chimbonda, who always played with and excelled against older players, had to catch up but had no time to waste as he only had two years to prove himself and his first professional contract to get. His first year was tough and “my dream almost stopped after a year.”
He coped in training but felt he sometimes struggled to put one foot in front of the other in games, partly due to a lack of confidence. The cold weather was also a shock.
He said: “I had a lot of things in my head like ‘I don’t want to let my family down.’ People are pushing me, believing in me and I don’t want to let all those people down. That gives me a second motivation. In the end everything went well and gave me a good career.”
It eventually took him to newly promoted Wigan ahead of their first ever Premier League season in 2005.
Chimbonda didn’t know where Wigan was when he came from Bastia.
He didn’t speak English, needed help to understand manager Paul Jewell’s Scouse accent and support from Grenada international Jason Roberts to settle in.
But he became a Wigan cult hero. They finished in 10th place, were even in second place at one point, and reached the Carling Cup final against the “great Manchester United”.
“We lived a dream,” said Chimbonda, who was voted the best right-back in the Premier League this season ahead of the likes of Gary Neville and Paulo Ferreira and was also rewarded with a place in France’s World Cup squad.
Chimbonda says he “lived the dream” at Wigan and they reached the Carling Cup final
He said: “It’s not for everyone to be one of the top 23 players in the country and in 2006 I was. “Being in that squad was incredible. When you see the quality of Zidane, Henry in training…
“One thing that stuck with me about this World Cup was when we played Brazil in the quarter-finals. Zidane, wow.
“I was sitting on the bench and when I saw what he did on the first ball he touched, I said, ‘Mate, we’re going to win the game easily.’ Nobody will stop him today.
“Brazil had Ronaldo, Kaka, Ronaldinho, Adriano… all the best players and we beat them, but this time when I saw Zidane touch his first ball I said: ‘We win’.”
Chimbonda’s rise continued after the tournament, moving to Tottenham for the first of two spells and winning the Carling Cup at his second attempt in 2008.
After further appearances in the top flight with Sunderland and Blackburn, Chimbonda ended his playing career in non-league shortly before his 40th year.
While this was a sign of his desire to continue playing the game he loves, moving into management at Skelmersdale is an indication of how difficult it was for him to get that first break.
Chimbonda, who impressed Skelmersdale bosses with his work at the PC39 Academy he set up in Manchester and was well known to deputy chairman Gordon Johnson, faced the familiar hurdles other black coaches have had to overcome as they tried to compete despite his A -License to come into play.
He said: “I don’t know why this bias still exists because there are so many good black coaches who have played football at a high level and you never see them in the coaching business or other bodies of the game.”
He said, “If you never start anywhere, you will never learn and do anything good.”
But he was undeterred, adding: “A lot of people told me, ‘Don’t give up.'” “One day maybe it will happen and you will open the door for other black coaches to get involved in the football industry.”
“This challenge, if I have to accept it to play football, I open my arms to it. “I’m really glad that they gave me the opportunity to express myself.
“There are still a lot of games ahead of us.” I will shake this tree, try to create a good base and get out of this bottom of the table.
“I have to start my coaching career somewhere. Even though I know the challenge can be difficult: if you never start somewhere, you will never learn and do anything good.”