Sports Features of Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Source: Kennedy, Arthur Kobina

Foreign National Coaches

Monday, 14th January, 2013

In 2010, during the World Cup, I panicked when I realized that Ghana, which was then coached by the Serbian, Milovan Rajevac, would face Serbia in the preliminaries stages. Ghana did win but I have always been bothered by the question of divided loyalties. Now, to look forward, imagine, if it were possible, A World Cup final match in say 2014 between Russia, coached by Fabio Capello, an Italian and Italy. Imagine that this match is tied after extra time and, as happened in the United States between Brazil and Italy, it comes down to penalties and a Russian is moving to take the final penalty that would give Russia the championship. If you were Fabio Capello, would you be rooting for the country you coach or your fatherland? This question has always been at the heart of my discomfort with foreign coaches for national teams. To continue with my case, I am an intellectual purist. If in the Capello scenario that I gave you, the Russian scored, would it truly be a victory of Russia over Italy when the Russians were coached by an Italian? My concerns were actually amplified accidentally a few years ago by legendary Egyptian coach Hassan Shehata. When rumours started that he might be the next coach of Israel, he put the rumour down rather viciously. Said Shehata, “I’d rather die of hunger than entertain the possibility of coaching Israel.” That was understandable given the historic role of Egypt in the Arab-Israeli contest.

For the avoidance of doubt, I am not against foreign club coaches. Indeed I wish that when Pep Gardiola left Barcelona, he had decided to coach say Asante Kotoko of Ghana, T.P. Mazembe of DRC or Esperance of Tunisia. That would have been something to behold. Well, maybe when Mourinho does leave Real Madrid, he will look at an African team. One of these days, with the right coach, an African club will lift the club world cup.

I am not sure when this fascination with foreign coaches started but it seems Africa is quite taken with it. Next week, Africa’s elite soccer nations will compete in South Africa in the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations. Many of the nations heading for South Africa will have foreign coaches. Amongst these nations will be defending Champions Zambia, DRC, Burkina Faso and Mali. In a departure from recent practice, Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa, amongst others will show up with local coaches. Of the 26 Nations’ Cup Competitions held to date since the original one in 1957, foreign coaches have won fourteen, which is a little more than half. Indeed, except for the domination of Egypt under a local coach Shehata from 2006 to 2010, the pendulum has been swinging towards the expatriates quite a bit.

Surprisingly, except for Africa, expatriate coaches have not had much success. Amazingly, all the 19 World Cup Competitions have been won by indigenous coaches. That must have informed the attitude of the Brazilian football official when he was asked about rumours that former Barcelona coach Pep Gardiola was being considered as the National coach of Brazil. Said the official, “We have won five times with Brazilian coaches, doing better than anyone else. Why would we change that?”

A look at European Nations Cup Competitions reveals a similar pattern. Since the Soviets won the maiden competition under Coach Kachalin, every European Nations’ competition has been won by an indigenous coach except the one in 2004. That was won by Greece under German Coach Otto Rehhagel. From this, it appears that despite the increasing popularity of foreign coaches, the evidence for their success across the globe is limited. Even in Africa, the obsession of some nations with foreign coaches is puzzling. Take Ghana for instance. All out four championships in Africa have been won under local coaches. If history is a guide, we actually have a better chance of winning this year compared to last year—just based on who our coach is.

Since the idea of foreign coaches seems to be here to stay, I am looking forward to the day when England or Spain might be coached by an African coach. While I am still uncomfortable with the idea, it sure will be nice to see a French National team, coached by say Didier Drogba, face the Ivory Coast in a World Cup match. In that case, I will be rooting for Coach Didier’s team to win and I will be wondering whether he will be rooting for his own team.

I must confess that if I was the coach of England and Ghana had a chance to beat them, I would find it hard to be professional.

Consistent with this bias, in South Africa, I will be rooting for all the teams coached by indigenous coaches, particularly, Ghana.

Let the games begin.

Arthur Kobina Kennedy