The thrilling end to the Ghana – Uruguay quarter final and the praise that the gallant performance of the Black Stars gained did much to hide the relative failure of the majority of African sides this summer.
In the build up to the tournament the African sides were fancied by many. Their, characteristically, athletic teams were seen as potential usurpers of the regular European and South American contingent. The fact that numerous African players now play in Europe’s top leagues was seen as a technical and tactical bonus. What we actually saw was failure.
Six African teams entered the competition at the beginning, five qualifiers and one host nation. The host nation South Africa inspired during their opening day match against Mexico. The impressive finish of Tshabalala ignited the passion of a nation but their lack of ruthlessness was exploited by the Mexican’s and Rafael Marquez. Carlos Alberto Parreira’s team lacked the creative spark needed to be a truly imposing threat and the willing running of Mphela was not enough to overcome the Uruguayans. A final group game victory over the troubled French flattered to deceive as Parreira’s conservatism in the previous games eventually cost his team.
Rabah Saadane’s Algeria did not manage to win a single match at this summer’s tournament. His decision to drop the regular captain Yazid Mansouri caused controversy within the camp. Mansouri, on hearing the news, decided to pack his bags and head home. He was persuaded otherwise by the assistant manager, but with the Desert Foxes early exit, he would have been best served ignoring the assistant manager and taking an even earlier flight home.
Cameroon, a team boasting talents such as Samuel Eto and Alex Song, became the first team to be eliminated from the tournament. Paul le Guen’s decision to employ Eto’o on the right flank attracted widespread criticism. Pushing his most influential player into an unfavoured position did little to inspire his side as they were defeated in all three of their group games. Cameroon had been tipped as dark horses before the tournament but with the apparent threat nullified by Japan, Denmark and Holland its back to the drawing board for the once indomitable lions.
Oooh aaah Cote D’Ivoire, the seemingly most fancied African team were drawn in the “group of death” alongside World Cup powerhouses Brazil and Portugal as well as relative unknowns Korea DPR. The appointment of mercurial money grabber Sven Goran Eriksson did little for the fortunes of the Elephants. A blunt performance against England’s recent adversaries Portugal and then a feeble defeat to Brazil ended their tournament before it had even begun.
Lars Lagerback’s well drilled Nigeria side complete the list of African sides that fell at the first hurdle. The immediate memory of their campaign is the almost implausible miss by Ayegbeni Yakubu, but it could have been very different. Had the Super Eagles not conceded defeat to an otherwise unthreatening Greece side, a place in the round of sixteen could have awaited. If the foolish Sani Kaita had not childishly lashed out at Vassilis Torosidis, Yakubu’s miss would have been an irrelevance and Lars Lagerback may have actually cracked a smile.
Failure for each of these teams was down to a number of corresponding and contrasting reasons, however, one thing to note is that not one African team in an African World Cup actually had an African manager. The apparent death in African managerial stock filters into their club game.
TP Mazembe, the champions of the 2009 African CAF Champions League, employ a French manager Diego Carzzito and one of the losing semi-finalists Al-Hilal Omdurman, native to the Sudan, are managed by a Brazilian Paulo Campos. The fact that the runners up to the competition and the other losing semi-finalists are both managed by native Nigerian’s seems to have done little to impress the Nigerian football association. Even the “African club of the century” Al-Ahly are managed by a native Egyptian.
The lack of African managers in the international game hints at a lack of courage from the national footballing bodies. The widespread decision to appoint experienced foreign managers to the national sides may be due to the African national bodies attempts to westernise themselves. Seeing a lack of African mangers in Western Football resonates throughout Africa as national bodies could be fooled into thinking that African managers are incompetent and therefore not worthy of a chance.
Unfortunately, the lack of African managers at western clubs could be due to the simple fact that up until recently few African players were believed to be at the top table of world football. As more and more African players are recognised as truly great players we may see a change in the mindset of the national bodies. The esteemed careers of players such as Samuel Eto’o carries weight when applying for managerial positions and if they then attract decent jobs a knock-on effect could continue throughout the African game encouraging the national football association’s that home grown managers are the right choice.
The development of players in Africa is reaching great heights as the recent youth championship triumph of Ghana has proved. The next step is developing managers equipped with a knowledge of the tactical aspects of the game and a respect to allow them to successfully apply for managerial posts all over the world, in turn developing the national game and the chances of a truly African side successfully competing for the World Cup.