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Aliou Cisse… African coaches can do better

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Senegal’s coach Aliou Cisse. (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO / AFP)


After surviving the Carthage Eagles of Tunisia in their semifinal tie, coach of Teranga Lions of Senegal, Aliou Cisse knew he had a huge task ahead of him in the final hurdle against the Desert Foxes of Algeria. The North Africans had eliminated Nigeria’s Super Eagles 2-1 in the other semifinal encounter.

However, unlike some other coaches, who would wear long faces, frowning at anything in sight as a result of pressure, Cisse went about his job calmly, answering questions from journalists and taking photographs with the fans.To him, dodging questions from journalists would be unprofessional. “I see journalists as partners in this business of coaching, and I have to find time to attend to them whenever they approach me,” Cisse told The Guardian at the Cairo International Stadium on the eve of the final showdown against Algeria.

The Teranga Lions of Senegal were ranked Africa’s number one team in the build up to Egypt 2019 Afcon. But in the land of the Pharaohs, Senegal’s ride to the final encountered its shares of bumps on the road. Their encounter with the Desert Foxes earlier in the group stage of the competition had ended 1-0 in favour of Algeria with Youcef Belaili accounting for the lone goal.

So, on July 18, a day to the final, a lot of things were running through the mind of the Senegalese coach. Apart from seeking revenge against the Desert Foxes, Cisse was on a mission for personal redemption.In 2002, when Mali hosted the African Cup of Nations, Cisse was the team captain of the Teranga Lions that was beaten on penalties by the Indomitable Lions of Cameroun. In fact, it was Cisse’s missed kick that handed the title to Cameroun. He was desperate to end a long wait for a first continental title, while the Algerians were looking to add to the trophy they lifted as hosts 29 years ago.

“Having lost the final at Mali 2002 as a player, I want to win it as a coach here in Egypt,” Cisse said in the chat with The Guardian. “That was one of the things that motivated me to become a coach and I am happy I have been able to take Senegal to the final. My players always tell me they would do better than my generation. I hope they will be able to live up to their words in tomorrow’s final,” he stated.

Though, the Desert Foxes of Algeria had the upper hand, winning the trophy with an early goal in the final on July 19, coach Cisse felt he already made a bold statement for African coaches.

In the interview with The Guardian at Cairo International Stadium, Cisse made a heart-touching revelation of how some top football officials in Senegal wanted to block him from becoming the coach of the Teranga Lions.

“Senegalese football leaders wanted white people (foreign coaches) who were asking for a lot of money,” he said. “I went to beg El Hadji Diouf and some former footballers to go ask the government to recruit me. But, it was difficult because the minister wanted Alain Giresse (French), who was asking for millions of francs.”

Continuing, Cisse revealed that after long weeks of discussions with the French coach without agreement, the minister invited him to his office. “I seized the opportunity to tell him that I don’t run after the millions. I told him to just allow me to serve my country.“I want to ask African leaders to give their brothers the chance instead of spending the time running behind white people (foreign coaches),” Cisse stated.

Cissé captained the Teranga Lions at Korea/Japan 2002 FIFA World Cup, where they got to the quarterfinal. After a stunning 0–1 victory over reigning world champions, France, on the opening day of the competition, Senegal made it all the way to the quarterfinals where they lost 1–0 to Turkey.

As coach, Cisse helped the Teranga Lions qualify for Russia 2018 FIFA World Cup for the first time since 2002. The Taranga Lions failed to qualify for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, which the Super Eagles of Nigeria won in South Africa. The Senegalese were eliminated in the group stage of the 2015 edition before Cisse helped them to reach the quarterfinal of the 2017 edition in Gabon.

“I have always been confident in the work we are doing, and I believe African coaches can perform if they are given the same treatment accorded to their foreign counterparts,” he stated. Cisse, who began his football career in France, later played for English clubs Birmingham City and Portsmouth.

He was coach of the Teranga Lions in a caretaker role in 2012 after Amara Traoré was sacked. He was also the assistant coach of Senegal U-23 team from 2012 to 2013, and was head coach from 2013 to 2015. In early March 2015, Cissé was officially appointed as the head coach of the Teranga Lions.The defeat to Algeria at Egypt 2019 Afcon notwithstanding, Senegal’s Football Federation (FSF) has officially extended the contract of coach Cissé and his staff until August 2021.


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Aliou Cisse
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