As the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations in Equatorial Guinea moves into the knockout phase, the meagre presence of coaches from the continent is striking.
At the start of this year’s tournament, only three of the 16 competing countries were led by African coaches, and only one has survived into the quarter-finals.
Zambia’s Honour Janza and South Africa’s Ephraim ‘Shakes’ Mashaba have headed home having failed to win a game, while Florent Ibenge of DR Congo survives despite also failing to win a match in the group stage.
European coaches have always had a strong influence on African football, with Hungary’s Pal Titkos leading Egypt to victory at the second Cup of Nations in 1959.
But in recent years Africans have been to the fore in Cup of Nations dugouts, with four of the last five tournaments being won by coaches from the continent.
Hassan Shehata took Egypt to three successive African titles and Stephen Keshi oversaw Nigeria’s triumph in South Africa in 2013 after Herve Renard’s remarkable success with Zambia a year earlier.
One of five Frenchmen coaching at this Cup of Nations, Renard is now at the helm of the Ivory Coast. But while the 46-year-old has become one of the most in-demand trainers in the African game, even he admits that the lack of local coaches at the top level on the continent is a problem.
“In sport, in general, each national team should have a coach from their own country,” he told journalists in Malabo at the start of the competition.
“I am working against myself by saying that because I have worked in a lot of different countries. But I think it would be good.”
There were seven Africans in charge of teams at the 2012 tournament and seven a year later in South Africa, including Keshi, who championed the cause of the continent’s finest coaching talent by leading Nigeria to glory.
More recently he took the Super Eagles to the last 16 at the World Cup in Brazil but then oversaw their failure to qualify for the Cup of Nations, while in the past he qualified Togo for the 2006 World Cup only to be replaced by German Otto Pfister before the finals began.
– Complex –
“I don’t know if it’s a complex, if the FA’s in Africa think European coaches are somehow better,” Keshi told AFP.
“The FA’s and African nations should have patience in their own coaches. They think they are doing us a favour by giving us a job. It is somehow killing the African game.
“There are a lot of African players who come back at the end of their careers and would love the opportunity to coach in their home countries but they don’t get it.”
However, Keshi’s view of coaches coming from beyond Africa is not entirely one-sided, especially with his personal experience of working for current Tunisia boss Georges Leekens.
“I have nothing against them. Georges Leekens is a good coach who I played under at Anderlecht, Avram Grant too. I have played for Nigeria under European coaches,” he recalled.
But there is little sign of the overall culture changing — Israeli Grant was parachuted into the Ghana job after they had secured their qualification for this year’s finals under Maxwell Konadu.
The trend is carried over to club level too — Ibenge may have taken Vita Club of Kinshasa to the final of the last African Champions League, but it is not uncommon for leading clubs around the continent to be coached by Europeans.
Vita’s Congolese rivals TP Mazembe, who have contributed several players to this Cup of Nations, are coached by Frenchman Patrice Carteron, while Spaniard Juan Carlos Garrido is in charge of Cairo giants Al Ahly and Portugal’s Jose Romao holds the reins at Raja Casablanca.
Meanwhile, four Frenchmen, an Israeli, a Belgian and an Argentine will be in the dugouts for this weekend’s quarter-finals, along with the solitary Ibenge flying the flag for Africa on the touchline.