Prior to the start of the World Cup there was much expected of the competing African nations, the likes of Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Cameroon and Ghana all thought to be capable of reaching the latter stages, if not going on to become the continent’s first world champions.
However, this was an exceptionally poor tournament for the CAF representatives in South Africa, Ghana the only team to progress beyond the group phase, eventually reaching the last eight and coming within a crossbar’s width of being the first African team to ever reach the semi-finals.
But the Black Stars’ relative success must not be allowed to mask the wider failures of the African sides at the World Cup and, now that the dust has settled and the vuvuzelas fallen silent following the conclusion of the tournament, their performances should be judged with a greater objectivity.
In my opinion, if there is one lesson that should be learned from the negative experiences of the majority of the CAF nations at the World Cup, it is that African football associations should not be so hasty in their managerial appointments nor so keen to employ “big-name” European coaches in the short-term at the expense of both general stability and the prospects of suitable candidates from their own countries.
Prior to the tournament both Nigeria and Ivory Coast dismissed the coaches that had overseen the qualification process to replace them with Lars Lagerback and Sven-Goran Eriksson respectively, Scandinavian managers with significant top-level experience. However, in the case of the Super Eagles the outgoing manager, Shaibu Amodu, was himself a Nigerian – something that has been all too rare in African football in recent decades – and had been widely praised for the work he had done in negotiating the qualifying phase during what was his fourth spell in charge of the national team.
Amodu’s dismissal and subsequent demotion to his current position as coach of the Nigerian “B” team following a more than respectable third-place finish at the Africa Cup of Nations in January was both a brutal and cynical action by the Nigerian Football Association. His removal not only exposed the NFA as a deeply hypocritical and base institution, it also revealed the underlying insecurity that blights football in a host of African countries, namely that they feel somehow “lesser” if their national team is not managed by a coach with at least a modicum of success in either Europe or South America.
The hiring of Lagerback and Eriksson were mere trophy appointments by football associations obsessed with the pursuit of image and reputation over the construction of a balanced environment within which a settled and group of players can grow. Their obscene wages on pitifully short contracts represent wasted money which could so easily have been ploughed into national coaching development programmes or grass-roots academies as have been established in Ghana to good effect. This current system is evidently unsustainable, an ugly form of neo-colonialism that is, albeit inadvertently, damaging the African game.
Carlos Alberto Parreira’s time in charge of South Africa had a similar feel to it, the Brazilian replacing Kagiso-born coach Pitso Mosimane in 2007 before departing for Fluminense after a year in charge only to return in 2009 to to guide the Bafana Bafana through this summer’s tournament. Such actions constantly undermine the position and reputation of African coaches in the game and, although the wish for more experienced managers is understandable, are surely stunting the production of talented and informed coaching staff across the continent.
Indeed, Cameroon, traditionally more willing to give home-grown managers a chance with the national team, are also not free from blame this time around. The Federation Camerounaise de Football’s appointment of Paul Le Guen smacked of the same chronic short-termism, although, in the interests of balance, the Frenchman did salvage the Indomitable Lions’ qualifying campaign and begin to introduce more young players into the national set-up before resigning after their exit from World Cup.
As Milovan Rajevac showed with Ghana in South Africa, a foreign coach can work effectively with African teams given the right circumstances, but that coach must be willing to involve themselves in the culture of their adopted country, be thorough in their research and scouting methods and, most importantly, be given time to build a project and fashion an efficient team model from the materials available to them over a number of years.
Perhaps the best example of sensible administration of the game at the top-level in the continent is that of Egypt, a country that has demonstrated how rewards can be reaped if home-grown managers are shown patience and allowed to grow into their role. Hassan Shehata has now been in charge of The Pharaohs since 2004 and has guided the team to three consecutive Africa Cup of Nations titles. Success can be achieved with local coaches and a degree of application, Nigeria and the Ivory Coast take note.
Short-term, quick-fix appointments will only ever hold African nations back and deprive the continent of genuinely competitive teams and fail to produce home-grown coaches with the ability to do such high-profile jobs.
The nationality of the coach is an issue, but it is not the main one, the lack of a coherent strategy from the top down in so many of Africa’s major footballing nations being the more pressing concern. If the likes of the Nigerian and Ivorian FAs don’t take this lesson on board and start to lay the foundations required to achieve their long-term ambitions then it is unlikely that their fortunes at the highest level will change any time soon.