Why Africa Keeps Appointing European Coaches
A Brazilian, a Frenchman, a Serbian, two Swedes and, finally, an Algerian.
“We can feel that he trusts us and that’s very important for the players. It’s very important for a team to have a relationship with such a coach in order to progress. He’s great for human relations.”
Saadane would have been accompanied by another African coach, Nigerian Shaibu Amodu, but he was forced out of the Super Eagles dugout in February after failing to make the final of the Africa Cup of Nations. It was hardly a mutual split:
“It is unfortunate that somebody’s dislike for my guts ended up making a mockery of the whole team as if we were a bunch of school boys who lacked direction. The situation wasn’t that bad as the picture painted by my detractors sought to portray.”
On the shortlist to replace him – in Nigeria’s twenty-first change of head coach since 1989 – were Glenn Hoddle, who led England to the 1998 World Cup but has never managed a club side outside his homeland, and the man who got the job, Lars Lagerback. Lagerback, who ended nine years on the job by failing to qualify Sweden for this summer’s tournament, has no African experience on his CV either. Nonetheless, he’s on $1.7 million for a 5-month initial spell until the end of the tournament.
Fellow Swede Sven-Goran Eriksson will lead the Ivory Coast to the World Cup, his appointment confirmed in March 2010. Again, he’s only there for the duration of the tournament, and will take away a six-figure figure for his work. “I don’t think I am paid that well, but I’m happy”, the former England boss – most recently at lowly Notts County – wasquoted as saying.
After well-travelled favourite Guus Hiddink pulled out of the running, Eriksson beat off competition from former Wales and Manchester City gaffer Mark Hughes, and the German former Real Madrid coach Bernd Schuster. No Ivorians were shortlisted to replace Bosnian-French manager Vahid Halilhodzic. He left claiming “it’s purely political”, after only losing one of 24 games in charge, a 3-2 defeat to Algeria in the quarter-finals of this year’s Nations Cup. Before him was Uli Stielike, a German who said Africa was too dangerous to actually live in.
West African rivals Ghana will be lead by Milovan Rajevac, a Serb whose first World Cup game will be against his homeland. He succeeded Frenchman Claude Le Roy in 2008.
Cameroon will be lead by Frenchman Paul Le Guen, who rescued their qualifying campaign after early struggles under German Otto Pfister. Cameroon, who changed coach 16 times in 19 years from 1990, have never been lead by a native at the World Cup. In African teams’ 28 appearances at World Cups to date, only ten Africans have been head coaches. And this isn’t set to change just because the tournament is on its way to the continent.
But why do African federations not have faith in their countrymen to lead their national sides? African players’ worth has long been recognised, in top European leagues in particular, but coaches and tacticians are far from being considered hot property. Should African national coaches be African at all in 2010? Are there African coaches who aren’t being considered who should be?
The 23-man squad Sven-Goran Eriksson will take to South Africa could very conceivably contain not a single African-based player. The Swede recently cancelled plans to scout players in the Ivory Coast in favour of watching Ivorians in Europe. His captain will be Didier Drogba, the striker managed by an Italian at Chelsea. He greeted Eriksson’s appointment warmly: “There is no doubt Sven will succeed, I have every belief in his ability to take us far. This is like a wish come true for me and most of my colleagues”, only adding fuel to rumours that the appointment was all about player power.
Barcelona star Yaya Toure is also in the squad, while his brother Kolo – if rumours are to be believed – leads a rival faction against Drogba, undermining a talented squad’s performance. Eriksson’s name, reputation and experience in dealing with world class players are therefore important factors in his appointment. He can stand above such a conflict, in the same way that, in different circumstances, expatriate coaches are trusted to pick players ignorant of any ethnic tensions or rivalries.
Or, as the former Nigeria and Chelsea full-back Celestine Babayaro put it: “For us, it’s important the boss has a big car.”
This is quoted in Ian Hawkey’s Feet of the Chameleon: The Story of African Football, in a chapter focusing on ‘The White Witchdoctor’, Frenchman Philippe Troussier. Troussier’s record of five national African jobs is only trumped by Otto Pfister, and he tells a great story indicative of the way Europeans have been exalted by Africans soccer authorities. When he was asked to become the head coach of Ivorian side Asec Mimosas in the 1980s, they phoned him last minute to make sure he was the last person to leave the plane on landing. “Then it dawned on me. No one had any idea what I looked like.”
Hawkey asked outspoken former Cameroon goalkeeper Jo Jo Bell why he believed European coaches kept getting the nod. “I understand it perfectly. In Africa, there is a fear of progress. Africa has not dealt with colonialism.” The game was brought to Africa by European servicemen and missionaries in the nineteenth century, and a regard for the European as a superior knowledge in the game has not abated.
Bell continues: “You always have these foreign coaches on almost every touchline. They don’t offer or show anything. But usually one of them ends up winning, so it’s taken as proof we need foreign coaches.”
Even if the unfancied Algerians led by Rabah Saadane outperform the Nigerian and Ivory Coast sides stuffed with European names, managed by the two Swedes, Lagerback and Eriksson, it’s unlikely that African federations will start looking within when they look for their next national coaches…the day after the tournament ends.
Sven-Goran Eriksson – Ivory Coast – $2 million (until end of World Cup)
Lars Lagerback – Nigeria – $1.75 million (until end of World Cup)
Carlos Alberto Parreira – South Africa – $1.25 million per year
Paul Le Guen – Cameroon – $960,000 per year
Milovan Rajevac – Ghana – $540,000 per year
Rabah Saadane – Algeria – $360,000 per year
Home-based players in previous tournaments:
Nigeria – 0 (at Cup of Nations)
Cameroon – 0 (at Cup of Nations)
Ivory Coast – 1 (at Cup of Nations)
Ghana – 3 (at Cup of Nations)
Algeria – 8 (at Cup of Nations)
South Africa – 14 (didn’t qualify for Cup of Nations, at Confederations Cup 2009)