OPINION: Why don’t African football teams hire local managers?
With the 2018 FIFA World Cup past the halfway point, KingFut’s Malek Shafei ponders a pressing question: why do African nations prefer to appoint foreign coaches?
After Senegal’s surprising 2-1 win over Poland, images of Senegal manager Aliou Cissé quickly circulated throughout social media. It didn’t take long for many people to notice something about Cissé: he was the only black manager in the World Cup. While the question of why there aren’t more black managers across the footballing world has been asked for many years now, Cissé being the only black manager at the competition brought something else to light for me: why do African Football Federations tend to hire foreign coaches for their national teams?
To see if this was an issue that plagued other continents, I looked at the managers of each nation at the World Cup, by federation. In UEFA, of the 14 teams, 11 of them are from the nation that they manage. Looking at the other three, Switzerland’s manager Vladimir Petković is Bosnian, but naturalized and became a Swiss citizen; Belgium’s manager Roberto Martinez is Spanish; Denmark’s manager Åge Hareide is Norwegian. Of the 14 managers of European teams, all of them are European, with 11 of them being local managers.
Looking at CONMEBOL
The manager of the Colombian national team, Jose Pekerman, is an Argentine, and became a naturalized citizen in 2014. Peru manager Ricardo Gareca, is also an Argentine. Of the five South American teams, three of them are managed by coaches of the same nation. The other two, Pekerman and Gareca, are South American, and speak the language of the nation that they are managing in (Spanish).
Europe and South America, the two best footballing continents by far, have 19 countries participating at the World Cup. All 19 of the teams are managed by coaches from the same continent. 15 of the 19 teams are managed by coaches from the same nation. Furthermore, of the four managers who are not from the nation, three of those four managers speak the same language that is spoken in the nation that they manage in.
Comparing this to Africa
There were five African teams at the World Cup, just two of them are managed by local coaches. The other three, are from a different continent, and speak a different language. This makes it extremely challenging for these three nations who are managed by a completely foreign manager. The three nations, Egypt, Morocco, and Nigeria, are managed by Héctor Cúper, Hervé Renard, and Gernot Rohr respectively. These three managers are essentially completely foreign to the nations that they are coaching. They are not from the country, not from the continent, and do not even speak the language. So why is it that African federations continue to hire foreign managers to coach their national teams?
I can easily name many negatives that come with hiring foreign managers. For one, not speaking the language and not being from the region can be and is extremely challenging. Then if you add this to an uncooperative FA that does not assist with the transition, the manager’s stint is already off to a poor start.
Issues specific to CAF
Another issue specific to African football is the odd and complex nature of the CAF World Cup qualification system. It is harder for a foreign manager to adjust to African football than it is for a foreign manager to adjust to the UEFA or CONMEBOL systems. Only in Africa will the powerhouses fail to qualify for the continental tournament or World Cup. Egypt, who won the Africa Cup of Nations three straight times from 2006-2010, failed to qualify for the World Cup during this period, despite their unprecedented feat. Cameroon, who won the most recent AFCON in 2017, failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. Because of the CAF World Cup qualification process, even the best team in Africa can’t qualify for the World Cup. Nigeria, historically one of the best African Teams, failed to qualify for the 2015 and 2017 editions of AFCON.
While parity isn’t the right word to describe the erratic nature of African football, there is rarely consistency. As I researched more examples of strong teams such as Egypt and Ghana failing in competitions, I recognized that this couldn’t be random, or due to CAF’s system. It was a pattern, a pattern of instability. Teams will go on runs, and suddenly, they end. This can be accredited to the short stints of success in African football. The African football schedule is crammed. This is because there is a continental tournament every two years, qualifications for those tournaments, qualification for the World Cup, and then the World Cup itself. In a four year cycle, there are essentially three tournaments in African football, with just as many qualification processes. Because of this, it is almost impossible for one nation to consistently prevail over 60 other federations in all of these competitions.
What causes these issues?
There haven’t been many (if any) African dynasties in which a national team was able to have consistent international and continental success over a prolonged period. The closest African football has come to having a dynasty was the aforementioned Egypt team from 2006-2010. But even then, they still failed to make the World Cup. Qualifying for the World Cup has been the base achievement for a successful African team, as knockout round success in the World Cup for African teams is almost unprecedented. As a result, nations look for quick success and are limited. The furthest an African team has gone in the World Cup has been the quarter finals. Most recently, Ghana made the quarterfinals in 2010. But Luis Suarez’s infamous handball stopped Ghana from becoming the first African team to make the semifinals.
Why foreign managers?
Due to the temporary nature of success in African football, federations tend to look for quick, short-term success; and they find this most often in European or South American managers. Because of the high pedigree associated with European and South American football, these foreign managers are seen as being at a higher level than local African coaches. Desperate for immediate success, African football federations will hire foreign managers, achieve momentary success, and go back to square one. This is, in my opinion, what is holding back African football as a whole from progressing and prospering. Given the quality of players, and the continent’s love for football; there are almost certainly ways to put Africa at the level that European and South American football is at.
So what should African federations do then?
Hiring and trusting local managers is a start. The perceived cutthroat nature of international football values short-term success over long-term prosperity. It is seen as better in African football to qualify for the World Cup and maybe make a run in AFCON then to consistently place highly in both tournaments. Federations need to take a risk, by giving a local manager a guaranteed job security over a long period. This process may result in missing a World Cup or two at the beginning. But, it has potential to lead to the national team having long term consistent success, and can create a successful system throughout the football pyramid in the nation.
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