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Nigeria’s Keshi Leads The Way For African Coaches

Written by Sebastien on 27 March 2013. Posted in World Cup Blog

Stephen Keshi stands alone among the coaches who have led Nigeria to tournament success. Otto Glória of Brazil coached them to the 1980 Africa Cup of Nations; Clemens Westerhof of the Netherlands led them to the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations; and another Dutchman, Jo Bonfrere, oversaw their 1996 Olympic Gold Medal success. In winning the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, Keshi became the first Nigerian to lead the country to glory.

Keshi’s past paints a picture of how African coaches have historically been treated within their own continent, where the possibility of being replaced by a foreign coach, heralded or not, has always loomed. He led Togo to a surprise qualification for the 2006 World Cup, but was replaced by the German coach Otto Pfister for the tournament itself after leading Togo to a group stage elimination from the 2006 Africa Cup of Nations.

He was certainly not the first, nor is he likely to be the last, to suffer such a fate, but when the second phase of African World Cup qualifying resumed this past weekend there were signs that the continent’s fascination with foreign coaches is beginning to wane.

The phenomenon reached its nadir at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, where just one of the six African countries present employed a coach from within the continent. Nigeria were particularly guilty of cherry-picking a foreign coach, bringing in the Swede Lars Lagerback despite native coach Shaibu Amodu having led them to qualification.

Ghana were the only African team to make it out of the group stage at that tournament, while Nigeria and Cameroon both finished bottom of their respective groups, with Cameroon failing to obtain a single point. It was an embarrassing show at the first World Cup held in Africa and it appears to have precipitated a rethink inside a number of the continent’s football associations.

That rethink was evident at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations. While Keshi was the standout performer, becoming only the second person to win the tournament as a player and as a coach, he was just one of four domestic coaches hired by the eight quarter finalists. The Ghanaian authorities even stated that they would pay for their coach, James Kwesi Appiah, to go on additional training courses to improve his coaching skills following their quarter final defeat.

While French coaches are still popular in the Francophone countries, there has been a general shift towards greater employment for domestic coaches. Five of the 10 group leaders in the second phase of 2014 World Cup qualification have natives at the helm, including Cameroon, who, in Jean-Paul Akono, have a domestic coach for the first time in three years.

On the back of their Cup of Nations success, Keshi’s Nigeria will be hopeful of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup. There can now be hope that if they do so, Keshi will not be the only African coach flying to Brazil.

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