World Cup

Fixtures

African coaches take centre stage at World Cup 2022

For the first time in the tournament’s history, all five African teams will be led by African coaches.

collage of 5 football coaches
Senegal coach Aliou Cisse [Peter Cziborra Livepic/Reuters], Morocco coach Walid Regragui [Juan Medina/Reuters], Ghana coach Otto Addo [Sunday Alamba/AP], Tunisia coach Jalel Kadri [Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters], Cameroon coach Rigobert Song [Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters]

Qatar 2022 marks the first time in World Cup history that African coaches will lead all five African nations in the competition. Many are hailing it as a watershed moment after years of African countries relying heavily on foreign, white and Western coaches while many qualified African candidates were denied opportunities. So how significant is this for the African teams, fans and players at the World Cup? And will this lead to more opportunities for African coaches, both on the continent and overseas?

In this episode: 

  • Sean Jacobs (@seanjacobs) – founder, Africa Is a Country
  • Mas-Ud Didi Dramani – assistant coach, Ghana national team (@GhanaBlackStars)
  • Radhi Jaidi (@RadhijaidiOff) – former Tunisian national team player and former head coach, Esperance Sportive de Tunis

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Full episode transcript:

This transcript was created using AI. It’s been reviewed by humans, but it might contain errors. Please let us know if you have any corrections or questions, our email is TheTake@aljazeera.net. 

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Halla Mohieddeen: The 2022 World Cup in Qatar is underway. And when Senegal kicks off its campaign against the Netherlands tonight, its players and fans will be hoping to build on their biggest ever achievement from earlier this year.

Newsreel: Mane….Mane…..Senegal are African champions.

Halla Mohieddeen: Winning the African Cup of Nations for the first time was a massive moment for the country, but it was extra special because the team’s coach, Aliou Cisse, is Senagalese as well. That’s not something that’s always been the case.

[THEME MUSIC PLAYING]

For years, many African teams have relied heavily on western coaches – appointments that have often come at the expense of local coaches across the continent.

Newsreel: Frenchman Herve Renard was named as head coach of the Morocco national football side.

Newsreel: Egypt have hired seasoned Portuguese coach Carlos Quieroz as the new head coach of the country’s men’s football team.

Halla Mohieddeen: But change may be afoot. As Aliou Cisse leads his own country at the tournament, he’s not the only one. All five African teams in Qatar – Morocco, Ghana, Tunisia, Cameroon and Senegal – have African coaches at the helm. That’s something that’s never happened before in the history of the World Cup. So, is Qatar 2022 a turning point for African Coaches? I’m Halla Mohieddeen, and this is The Take.

[THEME MUSIC PLAYING]

Sean Jacobs: The Nigerian writer, Chimamanda Adichie once said that the World Cup is a perfect vehicle for fostering pan-Africanism.

Halla Mohieddeen: That’s Sean Jacobs, an assistant professor of International Relations at the New School in New York, who’s originally from South Africa.

Sean Jacobs: She said if Nigeria loses or is not participating in the World Cup, I support Ghana. If Ghana gets knocked out, I move on to the teams that are remaining. So it’s a kind of nationalism that expands as your country’s losing, and in the process it fosters the pan-Africanism that comes with the World Cup.

Halla Mohieddeen: And that sense of pan-Africanism is why many across the continent are celebrating the representation of African coaches at this World Cup. It’s also why I’m talking to Sean. As the founder of the website Africa is a Country, and a massive football fan, I can think of few better people to get into this topic with.

Halla Mohieddeen: Sean, this World Cup marks the first time that all participating African teams will be coached by African coaches. All five of them, in fact, by coaches from that country. How significant would you say this?

Senegal coach Aliou Cisse during training at Spartak Stadium, Moscow, Russia - June 18, 2018.
Senegal coach Aliou Cisse during training at Spartak Stadium, Moscow, Russia – June 18, 2018. [Maxim Shemetov/Reuters]

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Sean Jacobs: I mean, it’s quite significant. In many of the cases, some of these teams, they’ve had an African coach or a national coach from the country leading the team to the World Cup before. However, to have all the coaches, I mean all five coaches come from the countries they’re coaching, that’s an incredible achievement. Secondly, it also just reflects well because we’re also living in a time in which people are questioning this reliance on European expertise, or the idea of European expertise as the gold standard, when in fact you have former African players and African coaches that have the qualifications and the experience. And so more and more people are asking, you know, why can’t they lead the national team?

Halla Mohieddeen: Well this has been an ongoing debate in African football circles for a while, hasn’t it? You know, should we be so reliant on foreign or Western coaches, or should we use local coaches instead? Do you think that national football federations in Africa have fallen into some kind of trap of thinking they need to be so reliant on foreign coaching?

Sean Jacobs: There are a lot of reasons why African national football federations appoint foreign coaches. I think one is a sort of holdover from colonialism, in which you are made to believe that the best expertise is coming from Europe. And secondly, because of Europe’s domination in football – the quality of football, the investment, the symbolism associated with European football clubs – that’s where you wanna play.

So that also means that like any other fan in the world – whether in South America, Asia, North America – you believe that the best players, the best coaches come from Europe. And I think definitely, there’s some racism involved here. If you are perpetually being told that those are the best coaches, you’re going to start believing it. If you’re not seeing people that look like you, then you’re also just going to follow that.

But all the evidence suggests that when African countries have had success – for example in the African Cup of Nations, when Egypt have won the African Cup of Nations seven times, and they’ve done so mostly with local coaches.

Newsreel: That’s it. Egypt are the Africa Cup of Nations champions. 

Sean Jacobs: The same goes for Ghana. They’ve won the African Cup of Nations with local coaches.

[SOUND OF GHANA WINNING]

Sean Jacobs: So I think with social media, with the increasing role of the diaspora of a particular country. In the case of Morocco, Tunisia and Ghana, you’ll see that the diaspora plays a larger role in debates about the country’s future. And Ghana, for example, appointed a coach who is born in Germany, but identifies with a very large Ghanaian diaspora in Germany.

Newsreel: The Ghana Football Association has officially announced Coach Otto Addo as the new head coach of the Black Stars. 

Sean Jacobs: So did Morocco, they took a coach who is of Moroccan descent but born in France.

Newsreel: World Cup bound Morocco have appointed Walid Regragui as the new national team coach. 

Sean Jacobs: And former players, people with wide experience in global football – particularly in European football – are beginning to say, hey, look, we have this wider community, we have the expertise and we can rely on it. So, it’s time for change I would say.

Also the success of someone like Aliou Cisse, who’s the coach of Senegal. If you take him, he took the team to the final of the African Cup of Nations, then he won the Cup of Nations. And at the same time, he also qualified them twice for the World Cup.

And so the success of somebody like Cisse shows that you can appoint African coaches for the World Cup.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Halla Mohieddeen:  One of the coaches Sean mentioned there was Ghana’s. His name is Otto Addo. Some in Ghana have criticised Addo for taking on the head coaching role on a part time basis while remaining based in Germany, where he was born.

Newsreel: We are going there with a part-time coach. Are you kidding me? in this day and age? Hell no.

Halla Mohieddeen: But Mas-Ud Didi Dramani, one of Ghana’s Assistant Coaches at the World Cup, and a former player himself, says the connection that Addo has to Ghana is strong.

Mas-Ud Didi Dramani: Otto is a Ghanaian. And Otto has played for Ghana. He’s very passionate about his contribution towards Ghanaian culture and Ghanaian football.

Halla Mohieddeen: And it’s not just Addo who is local, but most of the coaching staff.

Mas-Ud Didi Dramani: I’m Ghanaian. I’m currently based in Ghana. I’ve coached Kotoko, the biggest club in Ghana.

I’ve won everything that is important.

[SOUND OF KOTOKO WINNING]

Mas-Ud Didi Dramani: So I understand the culture of the Ghanaian player. I’m part of them.

Halla Mohieddeen: That’s a characteristic Didi says is invaluable – and not something all foreign coaches are able to bring to the table.

Ghana coach Otto Addo gives instructions to Iddrisu Baba at Francisco Artes Carrasco Stadium, Lorca, Spain - September 27, 2022.
Ghana coach Otto Addo gives instructions to Iddrisu Baba at Francisco Artes Carrasco Stadium, Lorca, Spain – September 27, 2022. [Susana Vera/Reuters]

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Mas-Ud Didi Dramani: It’ll be difficult for him to understand the cultural integration. I don’t have a problem when you have an expatriate working. I’ve been working with expatriates all of my life. And I appreciate the knowledge everybody brings along. But in the football industry these days, you need a unique identity. And this unique identity is cultural based. Because you can never say that because our players are playing in Europe, their behaviour will not have a resemblance of a Ghanaian, Moroccan, Senegalese culture. It’s not possible. They should still have it. So even if you are European, if you are really very culturally based, you think about what will you do to be able to understand these people properly so that you can get the best out of them. Getting down and then finding out, you know, where they’re coming from. What do they appreciate? How do they go about things? If you want to just be European, it will not work. You need to put yourself in the African context.

Halla Mohieddeen: The advantage of having a local coach can sometimes be as simple as being able to connect on a cultural or linguistic level.

Mas-Ud Didi Dramani: I come from the northern part of Ghana, but speak so many Ghanaian languages. I speak Twi. I speak Ga. I speak Frafra. I speak Dagbani. I speak Gonja. I speak Fante. I speak Asante, you know. And based on that, I flow with them. Like Baba Iddrisu for instance.

Newsreel: Here is Iddrisu Baba for the Black Stars. 

Mas-Ud Didi Dramani: I speak with him in my own dialect. Or Fatawu Issahaku.

Newsreel: Fatawu Issahaku!

Mas-Ud Didi Dramani: I speak with him in Dagbani. And fortunately on my part, many of them are players that I have groomed in the youth teams. Because I coached the youth team also.

Halla Mohieddeen: This local know how is something Sean says can be vitally important

Sean Jacobs:  I mean, it does matter for players often that the coach is local or is part of the diaspora, say in the case of Morocco, which had a Serbian coach that seemed to have difficulty communicating very well with the national team players.

Halla Mohieddeen: Those communication issues led to the coach dropping star player Hakim Ziyech from the team, which in turn led Ziyech to say he’d never play for Morocco again.

Hakim Ziyech: I will not return to the national team. It’s my final decision.

Halla Mohieddeen: But when the new coach, Walid Regraugui arrived, things changed.

Sean Jacobs: So when Walid came in as coach of Morocco, he brought Ziyech back in the national team in warm-up games. So it definitely brings back positive vibes within the national team. I think the best case always is that of Aliou Cisse. I mean, it’s very obvious that Cisse understands Senegalese football. He played in the team in 2002 that shocked the world where they beat France in the opening match of the World Cup.

[FRENCH COMMENTARY PLAYING]

They then go on to the quarter-finals.

Newsreel: And Senegal are through to the quarter-finals of the World Cup!

Sean Jacobs: And now he comes back and he becomes the national coach. And then with Senegal in particular, there was this idea that they could never win the African Cup of Nations. And then Cisse coaches them to that. So it does matter. The players respect him. They trust him. It’s not some obscure person that they don’t know.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Halla Mohieddeen: Just looking back to some of the white European coaches that spent a lot of time coaching African teams. I mean, who were some of these guys? I mean, what kind of pedigree were you talking about? Were these just white guys getting jobs for being white?

Sean Jacobs: I mean, at some level it’s true that these are just white guys getting jobs for being white. But at another level, it has something to do with the structures of African football, with the history of African football. So you have a set of coaches who act almost like mercenaries, and if there’s a job available, they take it. And, you know, they’re often very good at what they do. However, it also turns out that there are just coaches – if you watch African football, you are like, where do these people come from? They coach in the lower leagues of one of the smaller European leagues, and you’re sort of wondering, you know, how did they get this job?

And sometimes, I mean, it has to do with the national football association being very weak. It’s controlled by a small group of people. There’s high levels of corruption. There’s a lot of political influence that result in a sort of lopsided way that the national association is organised and who they pick as a coach.

Halla Mohieddeen: And as Sean points out, despite their supposed expertise, many foreign coaches have ultimately failed to take African teams to glory.

Sean Jacobs: In many cases it was the local coach that qualified you for the World Cup. Then that coach gets fired and a foreigner gets appointed at the last minute. And then, you know, it all falls apart during the tournament. And so I think lessons have been learned that maybe it’s time to appoint these local coaches. I think we’ve reached a point where people look at this and just go, it’s not just a great idea just to go find a mercenary and put them in position.

Halla Mohieddeen: Though it’s clear that Qatar 2022 is a landmark moment for African coaches – plenty of impediments still remain to them consistently getting high level jobs in global football. More on that after the break.

Halla Mohieddeen: Though African coaches are taking centre stage at Qatar 2022, Sean says it’s unlikely this means they’ll start getting hired to take top head coaching jobs in Europe.

Cameroon coach Rigobert Song at Cairo International Stadium, Cairo, Egypt - November 11, 2019.
Cameroon coach Rigobert Song at Cairo International Stadium, Cairo, Egypt – November 11, 2019. [Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters]

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Sean Jacobs: There’s never actually been an African coach who was born, grew up, played in African leagues, coached in African leagues, who goes on to become a head coach at a top European club. And racism plays a part in this. Hiring people that look like you. It’s very clear, even for example in England, where you have many black English players who are capable coaches – that they’re finding it hard to even get a job in any of the leagues within the English professional setup. So even within Europe, they’re not even hiring people that are essentially European.

Halla Mohieddeen: Hmm

Sean Jacob: Like you’re black and European and you’re having a hard time of getting hired – how hard do you think it is to see an African coach from Africa getting a chance to get hired by a European club?

Halla Mohieddeen: Still, some African coaches are trying to make their mark in Europe. But they usually have to have the pedigree of having been a player who made a name for themselves on a global stage. That’s something Radhi Jaidi certainly did, having represented Tunisia over a hundred times, even scoring a goal in the 2006 World Cup

Newsreel: Radhi Jaidi from Bolton Wanderers in England, steals into the six yard area and Tunisia….

Radhi Jaidi: It was great feeling, you know. I’m still buzzing about it until now. Scoring goals in the World Cup, it’s a dream come true for me.

Halla Mohieddeen: Radhi also played in the English Premier League, watched by three point two billion people worldwide – for teams such as Bolton Wanderers, Birmingham City and Southampton – where he eventually became the coach of the Under-23 youth team after his playing career. But Radhi says the kind of training he got as a coach in England, leading to certifications known as coaching badges, just simply isn’t available for young coaches in Africa.

Radhi Jaidi: When I started to think about being a coach, I thought okay, I finished my career as a football player. I’m going to go back to Tunisia. But we don’t have the right platform, a clear platform in Tunisia, to do my highest qualifications. The first question you ask yourself is how are you gonna develop as a coach? And then you don’t have answers. In Tunisia of course, information is not there. Even when I was a player, I asked questions but there is no answers. Answers are really ambiguous. There is no clear communication about how we develop. I had a lot of young coaches from Tunisia asking how I can get this qualification? And this diploma? And this development? They’re trying to get the information, but there is no real and clear platform to support these coaches.

Halla Mohieddeen: Since coaching at Southampton, Radhi has been a head coach for clubs in the United States and in Tunisia. He’s also been an assistant coach for the Belgian club, Cercle Brugge, where he’s currently working for a second time. Radhi knows he wouldn’t have got these opportunities if he hadn’t played in England.

Radhi Jaidi: So my path was different. I moved to England since 2004. I played Premier League. I was lucky that in England you will be part of the PFA. The player’s federation and association. So, they will provide you the advice and the support on what it is next, especially after the career. And they propose you ideas. In Tunisia, we don’t have this. So when I decided to retire, everything was planned for me to prepare my coaching badges. At the same time I started to practise as a coach in Southampton Academy. I was lucky because, you know, Southampton is one of the best academy in Europe, which include the best staff and expertise around. I had my own mentor and I had my own experts around me, not just coaches, but from all other multidisciplinary departments. And this has helped me to build a great base. I’m still progressing, but I had the platform to progress with my dream. We don’t have this in Africa.

Halla Mohieddeen: Didi Dramani, the assistant coach for Ghana we spoke to earlier, is also one of the few African coaches with experience in Europe, having worked as an assistant for FC Nordsjaelland, in the Danish Superliga. And Didi hopes that seeing coaches like him in Europe makes a difference for young coaches in Africa.

Mas-Ud Didi Dramani: My dream has always been to coach in Europe. And so when the opportunity came, I rather thought about what would I do to be able to influence Africans on European soil. I inspire and then I impact a lot to the Ghanaian coach, and the Ghanaian young player. I mentor a lot of coaches in Ghana. In a day, I speak to more than a hundred coaches. I was in FC Nordsjaelland from late 2017 and I left just last year and went back. I said I should go back to go and impact.

Halla Mohieddeen: Didi also believes more African coaches and players in Europe will impact the way African football is viewed internationally.

Mas-Ud Didi Dramani: The presence of me over the years, and the influence of the African player into the Danish league really influenced the development of Africa football. And I believe that that is what is happening in Senegal. That is what is happening in Tunisia. That is what is happening in Cameroon and Morocco. It changes the way people are thinking about Africa. Now we have coaches in Europe, and we have our players, young talent, doing very well and coming to impact clubs in Europe.

Walid Regragui arrives in Doha ahead of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 - November 18, 2022.
Walid Regragui arrives in Doha ahead of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 – November 18, 2022. [Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters]

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Halla Mohieddeen: But despite their experiences, neither Didi nor Radhi have been given a head coaching role of a senior team in Europe. It’s something Radhi says is still a big barrier to break through, even though he has a UEFA Pro License, the highest certification available in Europe.

Radhi Jaidi: For someone who’s dreaming to be a Premier League coach, one of the challenges I’m facing now after finishing my qualification, is seeing a lot of competition and a lot of coaches, especially local coaches who go above you. Even sometimes with less experience and less development or qualification, and get that senior job. I’ve been dreaming all my time to get a senior job – a head coach. But never happens. So if you are an African coach and a former player who has been lucky like myself, being in Europe – you need to be at your best. You need to be the best in everything you touch, to get that job. And even with that, they will find a way, you know, to put you in a second line. So you need to be at your best baby, to get that job in Europe. You have to be perfect. You have to be unbelievable to take that job. I can’t imagine an African coach coming from Africa without all the qualification, all this development, and then easily going to Europe and getting a job. I wish I would see it, but I can’t imagine that.

Halla Mohieddeen: He can’t imagine it, because he’s been told as much.

Radhi Jaidi: A very big football director in a big club in Europe told me, Radhi, “we will never take an African coach from Africa to take this job.” And for me, it was an eye-opener to be fair. Because before that I thought, why not? Because African coaching can be successful if you give them the right support or the right platform.

Halla Mohieddeen: In the face of these impediments, Radhi still has questions about the path forward for an African coach in Europe.

Radhi Jaidi: It’s like okay, can I find a hybrid way where a former player like myself go and develop from a young age to reach the level where he can take a senior coach job? Apparently not. That’s not working, because I did that. I tried it. There is a little bit of frustration, but I’m positive about myself. I’m confident as well. I have a lot of energy, a lot to give back to football as a football coach. I’m patient in that aspect, so I have all the ability to take a head coach role. So I’m waiting for that and working hard to get the right opportunity.

Halla Mohieddeen: And that’s the Take. This episode was produced by Ashish Malhotra, with Negin Owliaei, Chloe K. Li, Ruby Zaman, Amy Walters, Alexandra Locke and me, Halla Mohieddeen. Alex Roldan is our sound designer. Aya Elmileik and Adam Abou-Gad are the Takes’ engagement producers. And Ney Alvarez is Al Jazeera’s head of audio. We’ll be back on Wednesday.

Episode credits:

This episode was produced by Ashish Malhotra with Chloe K Li and Negin Owliaei. Ruby Zaman fact-checked this episode. Our production team includes Amy Walters, Alexandra Locke, Chloe K Li, Negin Owliaei and our host Halla Mohieddeen. Our sound designer is Alex Roldan. Aya Elmileik and Adam Abou-Gad are our engagement producers. Ney Alvarez is Al Jazeera’s head of audio.

Source: Al Jazeera