Here’s what you won’t see when this year’s World Cup kicks off this weekend in Johannesburg, South Africa: Black coaches leading African national teams. Of the six African national teams to make the tournament — more than ever before — only one, Algeria, has an African coach.
The host team is putting its hopes in a Brazilian coach, while both the Ivory Coast and Nigeria are banking on Swedes. Continental favorite Cameroon is being lead by a Frenchman, and Ghana’s coach is from Serbia.
The news puts a damper on what’s being heralded as an historic event. This year’s World Cup is the first to be held on African soil and comes exactly two decades after the fall of South African apartheid.
Fans from these countries have a practical cause for concern: no team has ever won the World Cup while coached by a foreigner. So why go with European coaches? Answer: centuries of colonization.
“A lot of people [in Africa] still have that mentality that the European knows more,” Thomas Mlambo, a well-known TV presenter and analyst on the South Africa-based sports network SuperSport, told the Wall Street Journal.
The Journal also reported that many African National teams think hiring European coaches is a nod toward “playing it safe” since they’re already competing against wealthier European and South American nations with stronger sports infrastructures.
In a global sport predicated on nationalism and pride, winning takes on added significance for poorer countries, according to reporters. And the prevailing idea is that African coaches aren’t winners.
One student from the Ivory Coast suggested that African players have more respect for white coaches because they know African coaches often walk a thin line trying to keep players and political and sports officials happy. Case in point: former Nigerian national coach Shaibu Amodu led his team to qualify for the World Cup in 2002 and this year. His prize? He was fired both years before the tournament for not “helping his team reach its potential.”
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