The 2024 AFCON tournament has exposed the myth of the superiority of foreign coaches over African coaches in managing African football teams. Foreign coaches have not outperformed their African counterparts in the 36 matches that were played at the group stage. Indeed, in one crucial dimension — topping a group, which is a measure of how good a team is — African coaches have been superior to foreign coaches. Nine of the sixteen teams that qualified for the next round are led by African coaches.
This represents a success rate of 64 per cent, when measured in terms of the number of teams that are led by African coaches. Even though this is less than the 70 per cent success rate of foreign coaches, five of the teams that topped the six groups at the group stage (Equatorial Guinea, Cape Verde, Senegal, Mali, and Morocco) are coached by Africans. Indeed, tiny Cape Verde and Equatorial Guinea are led by local coaches and have been the standout performers of the tournament.
This is a remarkable achievement in African football. Such stellar results mirror the performance of African coaches in the 2022 Qatar World Cup, which was the first time that all five of the African teams were led by coaches from Africa. They produced better results than what foreign coaches achieved when they dominated the coaching of African teams in previous tournaments. That World Cup was the only tournament in which two African teams (Morocco and Senegal) qualified for the Round of Sixteen. Two other teams placed third with four points, suggesting that they narrowly missed out in qualifying for the next round. And the least performing African team, Ghana, exited the tournament with three points. African teams had never performed that well in previous tournaments when they were managed largely by foreign coaches.
Dominance of Foreign Coaches
Since 1934 when Egypt became the first African country to participate in a World Cup tournament, foreign coaches have had a field day in African football. They are the reference point for football administrators when decisions are made about hiring coaches. This mindset is largely driven by the belief that even though Africans have natural abilities to play the game, they lack technical know-how and coaching skills to transform native talent into good outcomes.
As Table 1 shows, 62 per cent of the coaches that have managed African teams in the World Cup since 1998, when the African region was allocated five slots, have been foreign. Foreign coaches have also accounted for 55.6 per cent of coaches in AFCON tournaments over the same period. Data compiled on 13 African countries that have appeared in 10 or more AFCON tournaments between 1998 and 2024 show that even though local coaches have been employed by all countries, foreign coaches have been dominant in eight. Cameroon, whose coaches have been 83 per cent foreign, is the most disposed towards foreign coaches, followed by Burkina Faso (72 per cent), Cote d’Ivoire (69 per cent), Ghana (69 per cent), Morocco (66 per cent), and Tunisia (64 per cent). Algeria, with 71 per cent of local coaches, has relied mostly on local talent, followed by Nigeria (60 per cent), Senegal (58 per cent), and Egypt (54 per cent). South Africa has employed an equal number of foreign and local coaches. The worst period of foreign domination of African football was at the 1998 World Cup when all the five African teams were led by foreign coaches. Only one got out of the group stage.
| Table 1 : Foreign and local coaches in World Cup and AFCON tournaments (1998-2024)
| Total number Foreign coaches Local coaches
| of coaches Total % Total %
|World Cup 48 30 62 18 38
|AFCON 250 138 55 112 45
Poor Pre-hiring Coaching Records
Three issues stand out when data on foreign coaches and their performance in AFCON and World Cup tournaments are examined. The first is that most of the foreign coaches have not managed top clubs or won regional tournaments in their own football leagues. There have, surely, been foreign coaches with a European football pedigree, such as Roger Lemerre, who coached the French national team in 1998-2002 and won the UEFA Cup and FIFA Confederations Cup before coaching Tunisia just after leaving the France job, and later Morocco; Sven-Goran Erickson, who coached England and Manchester City between 2001 and 2008 before coaching Côte d’Ivoire in 2010; and Henri Michel, the French coach from 1984-88, who came third in the 1986 World Cup and went on to coach Cameroon and Côte d’Ivoire.
Avram Grant, Zambia’s current coach, can also be mentioned, but he has been riding for too long on his one year of fame at Chelsea in 2008, when the so-called Special One, Jose Mourinho, was sacked, and Grant took his job and qualified for the final of the Champions League. However, Grant was relieved of the job at the end of the season, which indicated that the owners did not think highly of him as a coach. He struggled to get another top job in the top European leagues, securing only an appointment with a club at a third tier league in England as well as jobs at West Ham and a Serbian club for a year each before embarking on his Africa journey, starting with Ghana.
The Erickson, Lemerre, and Michel cases of successful foreign coaches at the top level of their own leagues are few and far between. Take Angola’s Portuguese coach, Pedro Gonçalves, for instance. Before he went to Angola in 2015, he was merely a scout and youth coach for Sporting Lisbon in Portugal. When he arrived in Angola he was given the under 15 and under 17 teams to manage, and within three years elevated to coach the national team on the strength of just taking Angola to the Under-17 World Cup.
DRC’s French coach, Sébastien Desarbe, only coached a fifth tier club in France before he moved to Abidjan and coached, in very quick succession, clubs in Côte d’Ivoire, Cameroon, Tunisia, Angola, Dubai, Algeria, Morocco and Egypt. He spent only one year each in six of the clubs and two in the seventh. He was then appointed in 2017 by the Uganda FA to manage their national team. He stayed for only two years, went back to club football, and managed Egyptian and Tunisian teams for one year each. He returned to France in 2020 and could only be hired by a club in a second tier league.
The limited coaching record of Côte d’Ivoire’s coach, Jean-Louis Gasset, who has been fired for losing 4-0 to minions Equatorial Guinea at the group stage of the AFCON tournament, is even more shocking. Here is a 70-year old man who started his coaching career in 1998 but has coached for a total of only nine years. He spent a year each in four of the six clubs he coached in France, and two each in the other two teams. He did not coach any team for 11 good years between 2006 and 2017. How could a football powerhouse like Côte d’Ivoire have hired him?
Nomadic Work Habits of Foreign Coaches
The second issue that defines foreign coaches in Africa is their nomadic work habits. They hardly spend more than two years on a job. Their CVs consist of a long list of countries or clubs, many of them obscure. Table 2 highlights the very short tenure of the current AFCON foreign coaches in clubs they have managed in their careers. If we exclude the Angolan coach, who did not manage any senior team before coaching Angola, the nine other managers have had a very unstable or nomadic work record. Most often they did not stay for more than a year on a job. Six of the managers spent only a year for 71-87 percent of the teams they coached. The Gambian, Burkina Faso, and Nigerian coaches have changed jobs 23, 22, and 21 times respectively.
|Table 2: Nomadic work habits of foreign coaches
|Coaches Number One Two Three or
| of teams year years more years
|Gambia 23 20 2 1
|Burkina Faso 22 19 1 2
|Nigeria 21 15 4 2
|Zambia 15 8 1 6
|DRC 15 11 3 1
|South Africa 14 9 3 2
|Egypt 9 4 2 3
|Ghana 9 7 1 1
|Cote d’Ivoire 7 6 1 0
Such a high turnover of teams per coach indicates less commitment to the development of a football tradition and more concern about grabbing opportunities. This can be a drain on the coffers of cash-starved football associations that often pay huge compensations to sack coaches when they underperform. It has been reported that the Nigerian FA has been financially constrained to sack its current Portuguese coach, Jose Peseiro, whose pre-qualification matches for the 2026 World Cup have been lacklustre.
A Captured Football Market
A third problem is the development of what may well be a captive market for well-connected foreign coaches. Such coaches do not have to win tournaments to move from one job to another. They may be sacked if they do not win, but it does not prevent them from getting another job. All they need to do to sustain their nomadic habits is to impress in a few competitions by qualifying for a tournament if a hiring country has never qualified before or has been out of a tournament for a long time. Winning a few matches that get them beyond the group stage or Round of 16, and if they are lucky appear in a final, may also keep their captive patrons in the African FAs happy.
Patrice Neveu, the current coach of Gabon, which was in the AFCON tournament of 2021, coached only fifth and second tier teams in France before landing the Niger job in 1999. He has gone on to coach six other national teams — Guinea, DRC, Mauritania, Haiti, Laos, and Gabon — without winning any trophy. The German Otto Pfister has coached ten different countries, including eight in Africa (Rwanda, Upper Volta — former Burkina Faso, Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, Zaire — former DRC, Ghana, Togo and Cameroon. However, his only major continental achievement is winning AFCON with Cameroon in 2008 when he was 71 — surely this was at the twilight of his career. And someone needs to explain how Michel Dussuyer, a Frenchman, was able to coach six African teams — Guinea three times; Benin twice; and Cote d’Ivoire, without any prior coaching experience in Europe or anywhere else, apart from a short stint as an assistant to Heri Michel for a year in the Cameroon team. His only moments of fame were leading Guinea to the 2004 AFCON tournament after failing to qualify on three previous occasions, and taking Guinea to the quarter finals in his third appointment as coach. He was sacked in all the three countries he coached.
Peaks and Poor Performances
The myth of superiority of foreign coaches has been sustained by a small number of successful managers at AFCON tournaments and few peaks in global tournaments, such as Cameroon’s amazing performance under the Soviet coach, Valery Nepomnyashchy, in the 1990 World Cup, becoming the first African country to get to the quarter finals of a World Cup tournament; Nigeria’s dream team of 1994, which, under the Dutch coach, Clemens Westerhof, got through the group stage, and signalled Nigeria’s arrival as a football nation; Senegal’s 2002 team, which was coached by the Frenchman, Bruno Metsu, and got as far as the quarter finals; and Ghana’s remarkable performance in the 2010 World Cup, under the Serbian Milovan Rajevac, when only the Uruguayan Louis Suarez’s painfully roguish handball in the dying minutes of the quarter finals match prevented Ghana from qualifying for the semi-finals.
In general, however, the performance of foreign managers, especially in global tournaments, has been poor despite coaching African teams for 62 percent of their participation in the World Cup. Even in terms of peaks, Morocco, which was coached by the Moroccan Walid Raogoui, has achieved the highest peak of an African team by getting to the semi-finals; and the coaches who have won the most AFCON tournaments are the Ghanaian Charles Gyamfi and the Egyptian Hassan Shehata, both of whom have won it three times. The celebrated Frenchman, Herve Renard, who had won the AFCON tournament with Cameroon and Zambia, wanted to do not only a three-peat in 2019 with Morocco but to win it in three different countries, but was beaten by Benin in the Round of 16 and resigned.
|Table 3: Performance of foreign coaches in World Cup tournaments at Group Stage (1998-2018)
|Number of teams that qualified out of group stage
| 1998 2002 2006 2010 2014 2018
|(NT) Qual (NT) Qual (NT) Qual (NT) Qual (NT) Qual (NT) Qual
|5 0 2 1 4 1 5 1 3 1 3 0
Note: NT = number of teams ; Qual = number of teams that qualified
As Table 3 shows, in six World Cup tournaments, from 1998 to 2018, which was the last time a foreign coach led an African team in a World Cup tournament, foreign coaches achieved mostly a 20 to 25 percent success rate in getting out of the group stage. Indeed, in 1998, even though all the five African teams had foreign coaches, no African country qualified for the Round of 16. The same dismal performance was repeated in 2018 when foreign coaches also failed to qualify out of the group stage. The disastrous performance of 2018 may have served as a wake-up call to African FAs to rethink their hiring strategies. No African team was coached by a foreign manager in the 2022 World Cup. It seems that confidence in African coaches by African FAs is on the rise, especially after the stellar performances of Walid Regragui who led Morocco to Africa’s first semi finals of a World Cup tournament in Qatar; and Aliou Cisse who led the Senegalese team that won the 2021 AFCON tournament. This year’s AFCON has 14 African coaches and 10 foreign coaches.
The blind faith in the ability of foreign coaches to represent African countries in continental and global tournaments needs a major rethink. Despite their dominance as coaches in African football, their achievements are rather thin, if we exclude a few high profile peaks. They have not outperformed African coaches in most dimensions of the game. Indeed, African coaches have demonstrated in the last few continental and global tournaments that they can do a better job than their foreign counterparts. Most foreign coaches have not excelled in their own leagues before picking up appointments with African teams, they hardly stay on a job more for than two years, and many seem to be getting jobs without due diligence by African FAs. This may lead to a captive market that will undermine the growth of African football. In an era when football has been highly standardised, with many African players plying their trade in Europe and elsewhere and being exposed to the same coaching techniques, there is no reason why football administrators should privilege foreign coaches over African coaches if the goal is to grow the game in Africa and achieve success.
*First published in Premium Times of Nigeria … Yusuf Bangura is a Sierra Leonean and writes from Nyon, Switzerland. Email: Bangura.firstname.lastname@example.org