As the big countdown ticks away, less than 100 days before the World Cup, perhaps Africa’s strongest team, Ivory Coast, is still without a coach. An article in the Zimbabwean brings up the state of African football and its reliance on foreign coaches.
In Cote D’Ivoire, the disgruntled Vahid Halilhodžić was unceremoniously dispensed with following an unsuccessful run at the African Cup of Nations (despite having lost only one match during his two-year tenure). Similarly, Nigeria rid themselves of Shaibu Amodu after only getting 3rd place in the same tournament. He was axed in late February and replaced with Lars Lagerbeck, a Swedish coach whose most recent claim to fame is failure to qualify for the 2010 World Cup with Sweden.
The appointment of Lagerbeck was quite a prize for not being able to qualify with his original team, and he now has the task of ingratiating himself to the players and learning up on Nigerian football in the 90-odd days that he has before the tournament starts. Lagerbeck replaced a Nigerian coach who would have been the only other African coach in South Africa (besides Algeria’s Rabah Saadane).
Whoever inherits the Ivory Coast (latest word is that Dutch “miracle-worker” Guus Hiddink is poised to get the job) gets the privilege of coaching one of the world’s most talented squads, bursting with ability, speed, power, and efficiency at every corner: Didier Drogba, Yaya Touré, Kolo Touré, Didier Zokora, Emanuel Eboué, Salomon Kalou, and so on, without having to actually do any work in qualifying. Common sense tells me that an Ivorian coach is not in the running.
South Africa has chosen a similar path, re-hiring Carlos Alberto Pareira (Brazilian; you might remember him from the World’s Most Boring World Cup Final [TM]  or as the Man Who Could Make A Team with Romario, Ronaldo, and Bebeto into a Side-Passing Snore-Fest [R]. Also known as Coach of Oil-Rich World Cup Whipping Boys [Kuwait 82, United Arab Emirates 90, Saudi Arabia ’98 aka “Fired During the World Cup”]. And most recently known as Man Who Can Make Even Brazil Look Bad [Brazil, 2006]). Interestingly, he was coach of South Africa previously, and quit, citing family reasons (though it is hard to ignore the fact that he did not do anything worth noting in his brief stint with them). Perhaps he needs to fund that vacation home (I’m guessing it won’t be in Ivory Coast).
In July of 2009, Cameroon appointed perhaps the most interesting of the [actual] coaches so far mentioned, Frenchman Paul Le Guen, who played a major role in turning Olympique Lyon into a dynasty in French football. He established a reputation at Lyon for good football with resources far smaller than those at other European top clubs. Furthermore, he coached a number of immensely talented players (many of them African) and helped springboard their careers at bigger clubs.
In comparison, Ghana go WAAAAAY back with coach Milovan Rajevac, who has been with them since all the way back in 2008. Amazingly, he did not get the axe despite coming in 2nd place at the African Cup of Nations.
We shall see in the coming days how the Hiddink acquisition pans out (no doubt some interesting transactions will be taking place, considering he is still under contract with the Russian Federation). In all of this, it is a tad disheartening to see the reliance on coaches that apparently have had little or nothing to do with a nation’s football. In some cases, a coach might have a past triumph under his belt (as in Pareira), but in others (especially Lagerbeck) one wonders whether getting a mere European name is better than finding a true match for a national team’s football.
The idea of the foreign coach has been slowly adopted even outside of Africa; even England have turned to the [zzzzzz] Swede Sven Goran Eriksson and in 2010 will be lead by Italian Fabio Capello (Italian for “Fabulous Hair”). In 2004, Greece won the European Championship with a German coach, Otto Rehhagel . Though now that you think about it, there haven’t been all that many foreign coaches at the world stage with such success.