Now 30, former France youth star Jonathan Bru is preparing to embark on his first FIFA World Cup™ qualifying campaign with Mauritius, the country of his parents’ birth. Born in Neuilly-sur-Seine, near Paris, and a Mauritius international since 2010, Bru will be lining up against Kenya this coming Wednesday and Sunday in Round 1 of the African preliminaries for Russia 2018.
Following Club M’s 1-0 defeat of Mozambique in the qualifiers for the 2017 CAF Africa Cup of Nations in early September, the smiling Bru is confident his side can produce a similar performance when they entertain the Kenyans in Wednesday’s first leg.
For the little island nation in the middle of the Indian Ocean, the challenge of qualifying for the world finals is a daunting one, a long-distance obstacle race that only the continent’s major powers seem to have the resources to negotiate. Despite the odds facing the Mauritians, however, Bru is keeping the faith.
“I want to believe we can do it,” he commented. “Even the smallest win is a huge achievement for us. It’s dream because Mauritius has never won a World Cup qualifying match, but I’d love be part of the first Mauritian team to achieve the feat. Getting through to the group phase would be amazing for us.”
Bru’s optimism is founded on the recent strides Mauritian football has made off the pitch. “We’ve got a chairman here, Samir Sobha, who has done a great job since coming in a year ago. Our professional league got up and running a year ago and we have national teams in all the competitions, including the women’s and beach soccer tournaments.
“We’re playing a lot more friendly matches now, we’ve got a fitness coach and all the necessary structures are in place to help Mauritian football progress. We’re a small nation and even though we’re a small footballing country, all these changes are worth it and deserve to be supported. As players, we can feel that there’s a real desire to get things done and we don’t want it to stop.”
On the move
As Bru went on to explain, he is no stranger to international football and once harboured hopes of running out with France’s senior team. “I was a French youth international and was part of the most talented group of players in my generation, playing for France in every age group,” explained Bru, who earned a place at the French national football academy at Clairefontaine at the age of 13 before continuing his education with Stade Rennais, where he teamed up with the likes of Yoann Gourcuff and Jimmy Briand to win the Coupe Gambardella – France’s U-19 youth cup competition – in 2003.
Unfortunately for Bru, however, he found the professional circuit much tougher to negotiate. “It was a very hard time for me,” he said of his first two years after turning pro, a time in which he barely played.
Having made his way from one of Paris’ poorer suburbs, where he started kicking the ball around with a certain Lassana Diarra, Bru decided he had had enough of sitting on the bench at Rennes, where he had seen his hopes of representing France at senior level slowly evaporate.
It was then that he began the journey that has taken him to where he is now. After a false start with Istres, he chose to broaden his horizons, spending three months in Australia, where he trained with a number of clubs.
“I’d seen that they’d started a league up a few years earlier, that it was well organised and that the wages were good. I thought it might be an interesting place for me for later in my career.” And so it proved. Following spells in Cyprus and Portugal, Bru eventually signed on the dotted line for Melbourne Victory in 2012.
“I like new challenges, travelling, meeting people and learning about new cultures,” he explained. “And if you can do that while living out your passion, then so much the better. So I joined the biggest club in Australia and I didn’t regret it at all. It’s been the most rewarding experience of my career so far, on every level.”
After then returning to Portugal, Bru now finds himself without a club, though he still has Club M to keep him busy and fire his dreams. “If I’d made the France team it would have been amazing from a footballing point of view. It’s the very highest level and when you play in the World Cup with Les Bleus, you’re there to win it. Mauritius is a different project and the goal is to qualify, maybe, for the World Cup for the first time,” he concluded.