AFRICA IS A COUNTRY

It seemed strange when in the run-up to Afcon 2013, Nigeria’s coach Stephen Keshi forcefully criticised African football associations for their preference for white coaches. That when Zambia, until this week the great success story of African football, had Hervé Renard to thank for masterminding their unlikely triumph last year in Libreville. Yet Keshi has a point.

The success of Zambia under Renard should not obscure the fact that African football administrators have always failed to appreciate and make use of its own resources and talent. This is true of football as it is of Africa’s national economies. (As it’s turned out, the split between local- and European-coached teams in the quarter finals is even, four of each, but the stand-out coach, Cape Verde’s press-conference-crooner Lucio Antunes, is decidedly homegrown).

Keshi told BBC Sport that white coaches are not doing anything that African coaches cannot do. “I am not a racist but that’s just the way it is.” Keshi added that African FAs favour European coaches over African: “You tell a white person they need a year to adapt, to know the country and the players–they are told ‘don’t worry, take your time.’ That is unprofessional and is one thing that is killing African football,” Keshi argued.

This is a perennial debate in Africa; it is always there when a football tournament is on in Africa. Prior to 2010 Fifa World Cup, former Malawi national football team coach Kinnah Phiri also told BBC World Service that “it’s not fair for us African coaches not to be given a chance to run our own national teams because in the first place most of us are well trained, I trained in Britain; so to me, I think it’s just because of our own mentality as Africans that we do not believe in our people.”

As it happens, Keshi is currently in-charge of Nigeria and Phiri has just lost his job, after a string of bad results at the end of a lengthy tenure, suggesting that these two have been given a fair chance by their respective countries. Yet they paint a bigger picture than this.

For instance, Malawi has had a fair share of expatriate coaches that have not brought any success (take your pick from the itinerant German Burkhard Ziese, the Dane Kim Splidsboel and Englishmen Alan Gillett, Michael Hennigan and Stephen Constantine) . Malawi has never qualified for the World Cup. It has twice qualified for Afcon, in 1984 and 2010. Local coaches had been in charge on both occasions: the late Henry Moyo in 1984 and Phiri in 2010.

Egypt is the most successful football team in the Afcon history; it has won the trophy seven times, mainly with local coaches–take the recent three successive victories (2006, 2008 and 2010) when Hassan Shehata was in charge. These days they’re coached by an American, Bob Bradley, and they no longer qualify for international tournaments, most recently beaten by the mighty Central African Republic. Ghana has won the tournament four times, with a local coach guiding the team on all the four occasions. (Recently, in a brilliant BBC interview, Black Stars legend Osei Kofi, lamented the “mismanagement” that had seen so many Black Stars sides coached by Europeans.) A foreign coach has never won the World Cup on any of the 18 occasions it has been held.

The pandemonium that gripped African football prior to the 2010 World Cup is very telling. Of the six African countries present at that tournament, only Algeria had a local coach, Rabah Saadane, Ivory Coast had the Swede Sven-Goran “not-here-for-the-money” Eriksson. Another Swede, Lars Lagerback was in charge of Nigeria. Cameroon had a Frenchman, Paul Le Guen, while South Africa had a former World Cup wining coach, Carlos Alberto Perreira from Brazil. Ghana had a Serb, Milovan Rajevac.

All these were experienced coaches, in various degrees. Yet their appointments (not so much for Ghana and South Africa) vindicate Keshi and Phiri. Eriksson was hired less than four months before the tournament. In fact, Eriksson after he had just been sacked by Mexico, as the Mexicans were in danger of failing to qualify for the same tournament.

Nigeria sacked a local coach, Shaibu Amodu, who qualified the team to the tournament, in favour of Lagerback. Lagerback had just failed to qualify his own country, Sweden to the same tournament. Cameroon went for Le Guen who had no experience of coaching in Africa (he’d just been hounded out of Scotland’s Glasgow Rangers) and he had an unrealistically short time to organise the team, which had also achieved qualification under a different coach. South Africa’s appointment had some logic, as Perreira is a World Cup winning coach (1994) and had the luck of not having to qualify the team, as South Africa were hosts. Ghana was the only team that maintained a coach from the qualifying rounds. Ghana was the only African team that made it past the group stages and it was by far the most convincing of the African teams at the tournament, only knocked out by the dastardly Luis Suarez on that unforgettable night at Soccer City.

African football seems to be following the path of its national economies: so much resources and human talent but always looking to the West for help. Yet Africa has a massive pool of footballers playing in the top leagues in Europe and elsewhere. (The Economist suggested that in Ivory Coast footballers may yet overtake cocoa as the country’s main export product.) This speaks volumes of the available talent, and Ivory Coast is just one of many similar examples. (The Ivorians made the extraordinary decision of firing the popular François Zahoui, and choosing former Parma midfielder Sabri Lamouchi, a man with no managerial experience whatsoever, to lead the team at this Afcon. Les Elephants are looking good, but then don’t forget they didn’t concede a single goal at the last tournament under Zahoui.)

European coaches are products of the same leagues that most Africans play for. As Phiri pointed out, Africans and Europeans attend the same coaching courses yet African FAs still see expatriate coaches above African coaches, and are happy to pay them a far higher salary. Familiarity breeds contempt; this is particularly true of Africa. It is the only continent that fails to recognise and exploit its vast footballing expertise for its own benefit.

Africa’s national football teams have failed to improve under foreign coaches and there is nothing to suggest that it will ever improve. Let’s face it, a coach that is useful in Europe would never leave for Africa (where is Sven now?). Why would they? It is the same way that aid dependency continues to fail Africa, only its own resources and talent can bring its national teams success on the biggest stages.

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Jimmy Kainja

Jimmy Kainja is a Malawian academic, writer, news media & communications scholar. He is interested in political & social changes in sub-Saharan Africa, Malawi in particular.


9 thoughts on “Why do African countries hire non-African football coaches so much?

  1. (a tear for Shaibu Amodu)

    i wonder what African football associations’ INTERVIEWS with coaches are like: is it unfair to think that the political appointees who fill too many of the top football administration positions have little idea of what they want – in football terms – from a coach?

    leaving aside that they mostly seem totally incompetent, more concerned with skimming bonuses and getting themselves on the planes to tournaments and training camps, maybe they also read the sports pages filled with news of European leagues and watch the EPL on Supersport like the rest of us, and they don’t recognise the smell of vision, knowledge and authority on the domestic candidates…

    if we’re going to draw an analogy between African football and African economies game, the missing key is a functioning organisational framework for the resources and human talent, no? developing individuals or industries, teams or towns; competing and winning – giving us something to smile about other than “potential”.

  2. Going back to 2010: “The first point I would say is this, why don’t you ask some of these ‘poor people in the Ivory Coast’ about whether they would like to have a top class, international manager like Sven or someone that they’ve never heard of who comes from one of the local villages there – who could be a perfectly decent coach – or would they prefer to have somebody who we would hope would give them a much better team and a much better chance of really performing at the World Cup?” – Athole Still, Sven-Goran Eriksson’s agent, who’s without a doubt worth his weight in platinum.

  3. This is a very interesting article, BUT, the headline “Why do African countries hire white football coaches for their national teams?” is just a nonsense because there are lots of WHITE African coaches.
    Perhaps, the headline should swap WHITE for EUROPEAN or LATIN AMERICANS as the current Cote d’Ivoire coach is Black European, and Angola’s coach is Latin American.
    Or, even better, this article’s headline could have avoided mention the colour of someone’s skin.
    Back to the article, Yes, us, the Africans still live under a deep inferiority complex.
    I am black African and I feel Africans, especially those in the decision-positions, lack trust to their own people.
    Thanks

  4. Been chewing over this one quite a bit of late what with my own Kenya changing coaches more frequently than the Kardashians do husbands. On top of the why do African FAs like foreign coaches I’d like to ask why don’t African coaches make it in Europe the way players do? Why does it seem that to get qualifications beyond a certain point African coaches absolutely have to go abroad? Apparent race inferiority aside (Google Bernard Lama for the apparent) part of me strongly suspects that even though the best African coaches are better than the foreign coaches who end up looking for work in Africa, its just expedient for African FAs to make a hullabaloo over getting these foreigners to single handedly deliver whatever national team that is in question to the promised land than suffer any lingering attention on why their own responsibility in it.

  5. Reblogged this on This is MY Soapbox and commented:
    Egypt is the most successful football team in the Afcon history; it has won the trophy seven times, mainly with local coaches–take the recent three successive victories (2006, 2008 and 2010) when Hassan Shehata was in charge. These days they’re coached by an American, Bob Bradley, and they no longer qualify for international tournaments, most recently beaten by the mighty Central African Republic. Ghana has won the tournament four times, with a local coach guiding the team on all the four occasions. (Recently, in a brilliant BBC interview, Black Stars legend Osei Kofi, lamented the “mismanagement” that had seen so many Black Stars sides coached by Europeans.) A foreign coach has never won the World Cup on any of the 18 occasions it has been held.

    — This is a trend that’s been happening for several years. I am a big soccer fan so I hate to see African talent go to waste but it’s clear that foreign coaches tank very good soccer teams! Enough is enough! Hire local talent!

  6. The word “white(s)” just doesn’t sit well. An oft used word to malign a population of people, hence to cite a person or group as European or North American. Problematic. As the likes of Gordon Igesund that has paler skin is indeed African. There is absolutely no ambiguity when asserting a person White and European in one sentence, that by it’s nature, alienates the South African coach and can be identified as prejudice. Keshi is myopic. Albeit I share the same sentiment, I only stress that he’s to narrow minded to be aware of the implicated nature of the comments.

    Clarification is also in dire need by whoever wrote this incomprehensive piece maligning “”white(s)” in one pot.

  7. The negro hindbrain is not capable of the tactical mastery required to coach a top-flight side. This is only a minor complication, however; black players too are unable to withstand the mental rigors of a 90-minute game (most will end up fighting or taking a snooze). Doomed to failure, Africa might as well own up to its shortcomings by hiring from within.

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