The legend of Stephen Okechukwu Keshi continues, even in death. His score card is quite legendary – pioneer of Nigerian foreign-based players, first from the country to win Africa Cup of Nations as skipper and coach, captain of their first team to the World Cup, and the first black man to handle a country into the round of 16 at any edition of the Mundial.
Yes, the legend of Keshi ‘The Big Boss’ is so awesome, but an ex-international from Senegal is seeking to equal one of those feats, as the next black coach to take a team into the World Cup round of 16.
Now begins the story of Aliou Cisse, who has attracted worldwide attention in Russia, after getting Africa’s first victory at Russia 2018, as a 2-1 victory over Poland in Group H put The Teranga Lions under the spotlight.
Senegal’s victory came at a point when Egypt lost 1-0 to Uruguay, Morocco fell by the same scoreline to Iran and Nigeria slumped 2-0 against Croatia, thereby putting question marks on their potentials, despite all having expatriate managers from Europe in charge.
On the other hand, Cisse is the only black coach in charge of any of the 32 nations taking part in this year’s edition of the global soccer showpiece. This is at a point facts show that black managers are a rare sight in World Cups, despite its expansion from 24 to 32 teams.
At France 1998, the first of the larger World Cups, there were no black coaches, despite an increase in the number of countries with majority black populations, as the slots for Africa went from three to five spots.
Since then, though, only seven black coaches have had a chance to lead a campaign, with Nigeria also showing the way at Korea/Japan 2002, when Chief Adegboye Onigbinde led the Super Eagles, before Keshi followed suit at Brazil 2014.
However, even the 2010 tournament in South Africa, on African soil for the first time ever, had a 32-0 score of foreigners against black gaffers in the dugout. It is also ironic that, after winning AFCON 2013 with an indigenous coach and reaching the round of 16 at Brazil 2014 with the same man in charge, Nigeria are now struggling under a foreigner, Gernot Rohr.
However, some pundits argue that it is not due to prejudice; citing the example of Ghana is one of Africa’s giants in football, who could not make it to Russia 2018 with an indigenous coach in charge of their team – The Black Stars.
Their current coach is a former captain of the side, James Apiah, who replaced ex-Chelsea manager, Avram Grant, an Israeli, after The Black Stars placed fourth in the Cup of Nations. It is, however, noteworthy, that Ghana’s greatest moments – four African titles in 1963, 1965, 1978 and 1982 – were obtained under black managers.
In 2014, the year Stephen Keshi took Nigeria to the round of 16 in Brazil, a large-scale study by Football Against Racism in Europe network gave a daunting picture. While surveying clubs and football organisations in England, France and the Netherlands, it found that black and ethnic minority professionals occupied only 3% of coaching and assorted staff jobs.
At club level, the past season in England had only three black or minority ethnic managers in the 92 clubs across all four professional divisions, with only one in the Premier League – who happened to be Brighton Hove Albion’s Chris Hughton.
Dramatically, the most successful country in World Cup history, Brazil has a mixed-race population of over 50% (47% of them black) and has relied upon non-white players such as Pele, Garrincha, Romario and Ronaldo to win the trophy five times.
On the other hand, at least 25% of professional footballers in England are black, but The Three Lions have a different ratio for their strides in international football, compared to Brazil – five time winners of the World Cup. However, The Samba Boys have never had a black manager at the World Cup!
However, Cisse, who looks good to replicate Keshi’s round of 16 feat at the World Cup, has chosen to downplay the debate and insists there is nothing significant about the black coach missing out on the spotlight of the Mundial.
He said: “I am the only black coach in this World Cup. That is true, but really these are debates that disturb me. I think that football is a universal sport and that the colour of your skin is of very little importance.”