As the world’s eyes are collectively drawn to South Africa this summer, the African continent has six representatives in the mix for the World Cup, but do any of them realistically stand a chance of lifting the trophy?
There are many issues that have up until the point affected African side’s preparations for major tournaments and as yet, no African side has ever progressed beyond the quarter final stage of a World Cup before.
The hire and fire culture that plagues African teams can’t really help breed continuity in any side and the way certain federations are run is illogical to say the least. Ghana for instance, many people’s tip to be the African side to progress the furthest come the summer have had 14 different head coaches this decade alone, although two of these were interims, that’s still a crazy statistic.
The other favourites are the Ivory Coast who boasts the talents of Didier Drogba, Yaya and Kolo Toure amongst a host of familiar former and current Premiership names, but they too seem to have harmed their chances of success by appointing former England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson. Setting aside any ill feeling I may have for the Swede, his appointment lacked any common sense whatsoever.
Previous manager Vahid Halilhodzic had helped them qualify for the World Cup finals but was sacked on the back of an exit at the quarter final stage of this year’s African Cup of Nations tournament after a 3-2 extra time defeat to Algeria, his first defeat in his two years in charge.
France currently have the hapless Raymond Domenech in charge, a manager who despite all his flaws still managed to take them to the last World Cup final which would go some way to explaining his stay of execution.
There are rumours that current Bordeaux manager and former defensive stalwart Laurent Blanc has been offered the gig full time after the World Cup, a sound move it would appear, but nobody in their right mind would fire a manager and hire a new one just three months before a World Cup despite the temptation to replace them, a temptation which much surely exist with the deeply unpopular Domenech at France but was duly ignored because it would simply cause more harm than good this close to a major tournament. Well the White Elephants have caved into by appointing Sven in March of this year, a manager who failed terribly before being given his marching orders at Mexico earlier last year.
The risks are simply too big, you get rid of a manager who has brought in his own formation, style of play and players. Working within a framework of continuity allows a measure of accountability and stability. What does Sven know more than the casual observer about the Ivory Coast national team? Well, probably more than you or I, but I can’t really see Sven implementing a new fangled system so late in the day and I can’t see him calling up some obscure youngster from a Ghanaian league side either, he’ll just simply call up the well worn names and pick on reputation, something which dogged his time in charge of England, and for the undoubtedly large salary they will be paying him they might aswel have stuck with Halilhodzic.
Nigeria too have a new manager in Lars Lagerback with the Swede taking over after Shaibu Amodu who requested a leave of absence on compassionate grounds earlier this year. Lagerback is a seasoned pro at international level, a steady pair of hands after managing his native Sweden’s national side for 9 years and he was involved in the national set-up in various capacities for 19 years in total. But is he too stuck in his ways after spending so long at one federation to be able to adapt to a new culture of football and will he be able to implement his ideas quickly enough to have any lasting effect on the pitch? It’s both doubtful and risky.
Hosts South Africa have Carlos Alberto Parriera in charge, his second spell at the helm in three years. A previous World Cup winning manager with Brazil in 1994, he’s expected to uphold native pride in their three group showings whilst trying to spring a surprise or two along the way. In the last decade they have had 11 different managers from five different countries – hardly surprising that they enter the tournament as one of the biggest underdogs. Algeria are the worst offenders having had 14 different managerial partnership over the last decade, with as many as three head coaches in charge at once during certain period – odd to say the least.
England this decade have had six different managers this decade which includes two interims in Howard Wilkinson and Peter Taylor, Italy have had five, Germany have had four with France having just the three. Over in South America, Argentina have had just the four different managers and even Brazil, a nation that constantly supplies its coaches to the African continent and whose own federation is up there amongst the worst in the world, has had just five national team head coaches the last decade.
Perhaps African federations need to copy the example set by the rest of the world, the hire and fire culture can have a destabilising effect at club level even when the managers get to work with the players every day, the effect it can have on a national side, especially when they meet up so infrequently could be more of a hindrance than a help despite their best intentions.
There does remains some hope however, of the 18 World Cups played; only five have been won won by teams that have not come from the host continent, so history is at least on their side. As is Pele, who stated as early as 1977 that an African side would win the World Cup before the end of the 20th century, of course this prediction has not come to fruition but he remains confident by stating recently “here in Africa we will definitely have one team that will go far — and when I say go far I mean as far as getting the trophy. When I say this people laugh, but I believe it.”
This though most definitely has to be tempered by the knowledge of Pele’s constant pledging of favouritism to any nation that’ll have him over for dinner and put him up in a swanky hotel for a couple of days. He’s the footballing equivalent of Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, buy him a nice dress and he’s yours for the weekend. It’s fair to say that Pele would back a horse and cart if he thought it had the potential to turn into a bandwagon.
African sides can most definitely be lively and powerful and of those of you that watched the African Cup of Nations this year, some sides, not all it has to be said, have added a degree of tactical maturity to their game, something which has obviously developed because so many of their players are based in Europe these days and the naivety that has stopped them from becoming a force in the past has been stamped out to a certain extent.
With managerial continuity hard to come by in African football, styles and systems are given little time to blend together and with world weary coaches offered a big pay day for a few months work it would appear African sides greatest strength on the pitch, their raw emotion and passion, is also their greatest weakness off of it.
Written By James McManus