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AFCON: Why are the African coaches MIA?

AFCON: Why are the African coaches MIA?

Out of all the teams competing at the African Cup of Nations, just three have African coaches. This is the worst record for the tournament since its expansion in 1996. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.

The Africa Cup of Nations is now in full swing, and while it’s not exactly set the footballing calendar alight yet, it has had its moments. But, as with every competition African teams are involved in, one thing stands out more than anything else.

Just three of the coaches at the competition are African. Each of those three coach teams from the countries where they were born. This pattern is hardly a new phenomenon, but it is a record low since the tournament’s expansion in 1996.

The previous low was in 2008, when the tournament was held in Ghana and 11 of the 16 coaches were non-African coaches. It is not since 2002 that the competition boasted a majority African coaching contingent. During the 2010 World Cup, just one out of the six African countries playing had a local coach in charge – Algeria.

It’s a phenomenon that has irked plenty of local talent, too. Before the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the Malawian national coach Kinnah Phiri said in an interview with the BBC World Service: “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.”

Stephen Keshi and a number of others have lashed out at the chances European coaches are given which local coaches are not. The foreign coaches, they say, are often given more time to adjust, whereas local coaches are expected to produce results immediately.

The phenomenon occurs in domestic leagues of these countries, too, but not quite so frequently. Out of South Africa’s 19 Premier Division teams, six are coached by non-African coaches. There is certainly not a shortage of coaching talent, but African teams still seem to lean towards non-Africans. It’s a number that has been steadily on the increase after years of relying on foreign coaches to produce the goods in South Africa.

The theory goes that having so many European coaches taking charge can’t be a bad thing. Surely it’s evidence of the quality of the players that European managers are drawn to these teams? After all, a large group of African players earn their keep at overseas leagues, so perhaps having a coach who hails from those leagues seems logical.

Yet the evidence to the contrary suggests that it is actually local coaches who have the most success in international competitions. No foreign coach has ever won the World Cup, and when Nigeria progressed to the Round of 16 during last year’s World Cup, they had a local, Stephen Keshi, at the helm.

Egypt, who are the most successful team at the Africa Cup of Nations, was led to three consecutive victories under a local coach. On the four occasions where Ghana won the tournament, it was a local coach behind them.

Keshi guided Nigeria to Africa Cup of Nations glory during the previous edition, but is no longer in charge. The only recent exception to the rule is Zambia’s unlikely triumph back in 2012. Herve Renard was in charge of a magical campaign, but has long since left.

In August last year, the Zambian FA appointed local Honour Janza as coach. Since September last year, Zambia has lost just two matches. They’ve drawn three and won three. These are fair results for a team of their stature and Janza’s appointment is something the country’s FA president, former player Kalusha Bwalya, believed sent a positive message.

“We thought that Janza, having studied and helped [previous coaches] Hervé Renard and Patrice [Beaumelle] from 2010 until 2014, was the right candidate.

“Zambian people had been calling for a local coach to be tried with Chipolopolo. It was a great opportunity for Janza to take up the reins. He is bright and has a good insight about our football. He has done well so far and after a difficult start, he is settled and can only get better.”

While Zambia are unlikely to repeat their AFCON winning feat, at least they have the right idea. Promoting back-up staff to positions of responsibility is how it works in any ordinary organisation, so why not football? South Africa has recently done it, appointing Shakes Mashaba as coach, and it’s something other teams could benefit from.

There is no shortage of coaching talent domestically for all of these teams. The coaches who lead their teams to domestic success train at the same places their European counterparts do. Yet African Footballing Associations are content hiring somebody they have to pay far more than their domestic counterparts would cost.

Why this happens, one can only guess. Whether it’s a colonial hangover or perhaps that teams who appoint European coaches automatically believe that simply being European is tantamount to superiority, nobody knows.

It is, however a damn shame that local coaches who have worked just as hard as, if not harder than, their foreign counterparts, are ignored. By overlooking local talent, teams are missing out on important understanding that could help lift sides. The importance of communicating local culture and even local dialects should not be underestimated when it comes to coaching national teams.

That the trend is at its lowest ebb is somewhat concerning, but this also comes with opportunity for the local coaches to prove that they are worth their salt. DM

Photo: Equatorial Guinea’s head coach Esteban Becker of Argentina reacts during the team’s Group A soccer match against Burkina Faso at the African Cup of Nations in Bata January 21, 2015. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

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