Senior Sports Editor
THE resounding success of home coaches at the CHAN finals, which now guarantees a clean sweep of all the continent’s major football tournaments by African gaffers, represents a golden age for this underrated army of tacticians.
It’s also likely to trigger fresh wave of debate, about African football leaders’ obsession with European and South American coaches, especially in countries like Zimbabwe, where this has always been a controversial subject.
The lack of return on investment, where the majority of the foreign coaches have failed to justify the buzz which greeted their arrival, has created any army which opposes their recruitment, in many countries across the continent.
The events at the CHAN finals in Cameroon, in the past two weeks, will provide ammunition to those who have been preaching the gospel that the value generated from investment, into foreign coaches, is wildly exaggerated.
And, the current generation of elite African coaches, once considered a tactically-inferior breed, especially by their country’s football leaders, is fighting back with a vengeance.
For decades, their colleagues had to live with discrimination, most of it coming from those tasked with leading their Football Associations, who routinely dismissed them as a hopeless group that was technically-bankrupt and allergic to discipline.
And, from a distance, they could only watch, as some of the worst coaches were hired from either Europe or South America, simply because they were white. However, the disastrous campaign at the 2018 World Cup finals, where African countries endured their worst campaign, since 1982, triggered a painful soul-searching exercise on the continent.
Ironically, the Teranga Lions of Senegal, under local coach Aliou Cisse, were the only African country to offer resistance, finishing with the same points as Japan, and becoming the first team in World Cup history to go out on the Fair Play rule.
Now, Cisse’s colleagues on the continent are fighting back. Either Houcine Ammouta of Morocco or Mouhoum Diane of Mali, will lead his country to the CHAN title on Sunday.
This means all the major silverware, on the African continent, will be in the hands of African coaches.
Algerian coach, Djamel Belmadi, started the fairytale ride when he led his Desert Foxes to their first AFCON title, in almost two decades, with victory over Senegal in Cairo, two years ago.
The tournament was a huge success for African coaches, given the final featured teams under the guidance of their home gaffers, with Cisse, in charge of losing finalists Senegal.
Moroccan coach, Tarik Sektioui, then continued that fairytale ride when he led his local side, RS Berkane, to victory in the CAF Confederation Cup final, last season, with a 1-0 win over Egyptian side Pyramids.
That Sektoui triumphed over Croatian gaffer, Ante Cacic, who had been recruited by an ambitious Egyptian club, which has seen substantial foreign investment, including from Saudi billionaire, Turki Al-Sheikh, was hailed as a landmark success story for African coaches.
Cacic was subsequently fired after that loss in the Confederation Cup final.
South African coach, Pitso Mosimane, was next on the podium when he led Egyptian powerhouse, Al Ahly, to their first victory in the CAF Champions League in seven years.
Mosimane is the first black African coach to be handed the responsibility to lead Africa’s biggest, and most successful, football club with the Egyptian giants having been crowned champions of the continent a record nine times.
That the Cairo club could even consider to settle for Mosimane, after firing Swiss coach Rene Weiler, is being hailed as a defining moment in the history of African football coaches.
Now, all the focus is on the battle between Ammouta of Morocco and Diane of Mali.
Ammouta, who used to be in charge at Wydad Casablanca, guided his men to a stunning 4-0 win over hosts Cameroon, in their semi-final, in Limbe on Wednesday night.
Their victory came just hours, after Diane’s Malian Eagles had edged Guinea in a penalty shootout, after a goalless draw.
While the perennial failures have been trying to find excuses, to justify their shortcomings, coaches like Diane have quietly been going about their business, despite the challenges they had to defy.
“We came to this tournament with 23 players, 10 of them had 10 training sessions, the rest of them, 13 players, had only five training sessions,’’ Diane told reporters.
‘’We didn’t play any International tournament in 2020, due to the coronavirus issue, our last official football was on 17th of November, 2019 and this is January 2021.’’
Ammouta and Diane are the last men standing, from an initial list of 16 coaches, who started this journey in Cameroon.
All the countries, which featured in the semi-finals, were under the guidance of local coaches. Of the eight countries, who made it to the quarter-finals, seven were under the guidance of their local coaches with only Zambia, led by Serbian gaffer Milutin ‘’Micho’’ Sredojevic, the only foreign coach standing.
Micho, who first arrived in Africa in 2001, when he joined Ugandan side Villa SC, has vast knowledge of the game on the continent having worked in many countries.
Eight other coaches, who started the CHAN finals campaign, including Warriors gaffer Zdravko Logarusic, had already fallen by the wayside in the group stages.
Loga suffered the embarrassment of being the first coach, whose team was eliminated from the tournament, while his men were the only side to fail to win even a point.
Maybe, the foreign coaches were always doomed to fail, at the CHAN finals, given history shows that it’s a tournament where the home coaches have shone brightly.
Only Spanish coach, Javier Clemente, is the only European coach who has won the CHAN tournament, when Libya edged Ghana in a penalty shootout in South Africa in 2014.
Zimbabwean coach, Ian Gorowa, guided his Warriors to fourth place at that tournament.
Congolese coach, Muntumbile Santos, won the inaugural CHAN tournament when he led the DRC to success in Cote d’Ivoire in 2009 with his men beating Ghana 2-0 in the final.
The Ghanaians were under the guidance of Serb coach, Milovan Rajevac.
Two years later, Tunisian coach, Sami Trabelsi, guided his country to success in the CHAN finals. Clemente then raised the flag, for the European coaches in 2014, before order was restored in 2016 with Congolese gaffer, Florent Ibenge, guiding his country to victory in Rwanda. Another home coach, Jamal Sellami, led his country to success at the 2018 CHAN tournament and his counterpart, Ammouta, is now on the verge of defending the trophy on Sunday.