USI alumnus Damien Mollard: "We dream of another historical momentum, like at the last European Championship"

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Institutional Communication Service

14 June 2024

The stage is set in Germany as Euro 2024 is about to kick off. The Swiss national team is gearing up to face Hungary in their debut match at the tournament. To gain insight into the Swiss "Nati" mood ahead of the game and the excitement surrounding the event, we spoke with Damien Mollard, the Team Operation Manager. Formerly a student at the Università della Svizzera italiana, Damien earned a degree in communication sciences in 2005 and has been serving as the Team Operation Manager since 2018.

 

Damien, for you, Euro 2024 represents the third major tournament as Team Operation Manager of the national team, after the European Championship in 2021 and the World Cup in Qatar in 2022. Are the emotions on the eve of such an event always the same?

"I would say yes; in the days and hours leading up to the team's debut, there is always a great adrenaline rush. This also applies to us staff members who work behind the scenes and, therefore, do not take the field (smiles, ed.). Everyone wants to ensure that they have made the best possible contributions so that our team is in the best condition for its upcoming matches. We are looking forward to the start; the team is ready, and we have all the prerequisites to do well."

As you suggested, capturing the fans' attention is mostly the performances of those who take the field. Behind the scenes, however, a great deal of preparation work is always done. Can you tell us about this from your perspective?

"As part of my role, I am responsible for coordinating the support staff for the team, whom I like to refer to as the 'team behind the team.' This group comprises about 30 individuals and includes various roles such as the cook, physiotherapist, security officer, and even the coach, Murat Yakin. This role involves extensive planning spanning several months, including visits, inspections, discussions, and negotiations. After extensive preparation, we are excited to see the 'Euro 2024' project come to life and get started."

Given your role, did you experience the most exciting moment in the Swiss national team inside or outside the stadium?

"There were many. The kind that only sports, and especially soccer, can give you. With the upcoming European Championship, my thoughts inevitably drift back to the last continental tournament in 2021. I vividly recall the incredible victory against France in the round of 16 in Bucharest, which was a historic momentum for our team. I had the honour of witnessing that match from the bench and being just a few steps away when Yann Sommer saved Kylian Mbappé's now-famous penalty shot. It was truly one of the most thrilling moments I've experienced with the national team. But I want to emphasise that even away from field, everyday life with the boys and this wonderful group represents something special."

You graduated from USI with a four-year degree in communication science in 2005. What enduring lessons do you carry with you from that experience today?

"Studying in Ticino, especially at the Università della Svizzera italiana, broadened my perspective. I learned a new language and had the opportunity to meet people from diverse backgrounds and cultures. This experience was echoed in the National Team, where staff members come from several countries and where, given the nature of the Confederation, several souls have always coexisted. Studying at USI certainly helped me in this sense, giving me so much on the human level. At the same time, being in close contact with our press office, I can often put into practice other notions that I learned during my years in Lugano."

There aren't any Ticino players among the 26 players selected by coach Murat Yakin. It will then be up to you—strongly linked to our canton—along with National team director Pierluigi Tami and Lugano player Renato Steffen, to bring up the Ticino colours. Are you ready?

"True, after the various Bottani, Gavranovic, Behrami, and so on, now there are no players from Ticino in the roster. But the connections with your canton are not lacking, and it - like the Italian language - is very well represented within the selection. In addition to the people you mentioned, I would add goalkeeper coach Patrick "Fox" Foletti, assistant coach Giorgio Contini, physiotherapist Patrick Staehli and media officer Sergio Affuso. All elements with whom there is a constant dialogue in Italian and who - by origin or other connection - have strong ties to Ticino."

One last question: at the European Championships in 2021, Switzerland came close to reaching the semifinals, losing only on penalties against Spain. Do you sense the same atmosphere within the national team today as during that historical momentum? Do you think another remarkable achievement is within reach for this group?

"All of us, including the players and the staff, dream of another historic run. The team is mature and consists of several experienced and high-quality individuals. The debut match on Saturday against Hungary will be crucial as it will provide the first impression of our journey. We hope that the outcome will further confirm the work we have done, allowing us to immediately gain important points."

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