This World Cup will be the first on African soil, and there are more African teams here than have been at any other World Cup. But that Algeria’s Rabah Saadane is the only African manager at the tournament has provoked not a little hand-wringing among Africa’s soccer-obsessed fans. They fear that foreign coaches, who are frequently brought in at the last minute and are unfamiliar with a team’s players, may actually hamper their countries’ chances at the World Cup. (No team has won a World Cup with a foreign coach.)
“A lot of people [in Africa] still have that mentality that the European knows more,” said Thomas Mlambo, a well-known TV presenter and analyst on the South Africa-based sports network SuperSport.
Host South Africa is coached by Brazilian Carlos Alberto Parreira, who won a World Cup coaching his country in 1994. Ivory Coast is using a Swedish coach, Sven-Göran Eriksson, who coached England in two World Cups but never got past the quarterfinals. Nigeria hired Swede Lars Lagerback, who coached his country in the 2006 Cup but failed as head coach to qualify Sweden this year.
Neither the coach of Cameroon (Paul Le Guen, from France) nor Ghana (Milovan Rajevac, from Serbia) has any World Cup coaching experience. Representatives for the teams were unavailable to comment on their coaching selections.
African coaches working in their countries’ national leagues, often with shoddy infrastructure and little money to lure top talent, are at a big disadvantage to their Western counterparts. With national prestige riding on one’s team, African soccer authorities tend to play it safe.
Some fans maintain that coaches of the African teams–which have a few white players total, all on the South African squad–face an unusual racial barrier. “The players have more respect for whites,” says Bienvenue Kehedi, a 26 year-old student in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. “An Ivorian can’t assert their will against the players because he tries to keep on the side of all the players and is scared of taking tough decisions.”